Friday, August 23, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

The Problems With HomePod

Kirk McElhearn:

Apple released the HomePod in February, 2018, and the device has never seemed to catch on. There have been strong rumors recently about a HomePod 2 coming next year. But there are lots of problems with the HomePod, which Apple needs to address.

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In any case, the market decides for products like this. The HomePod just seems like it wasn’t thought out for real-world usage. It has powerful technology, which is wasted, and its price is way above what people want to pay.

This is probably the most comprehensive take I’ve seen.

Update (2019-08-29): Kirk McElhearn:

I’m correcting a statement that Daniel Eran Dilger on AppleInsider posted in a rebuttal to my recent article about the HomePod. While I’m happy to disagree on some points, he makes the statement below about the HomePod not being a mono speaker, which is simply incorrect.

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Listen to that song on a single HomePod and you’ll quickly understand that it’s not stereo. The two channels are in a single stream, and you don’t hear the voice on one side and the guitar and drums on the other.

Nick Heer:

But I wonder if some of this advanced speaker technology is being prototyped for a wider rollout in the company’s more mainstream products. Perhaps this is a test bed for getting impossibly good sound out of the speakers in a MacBook or an iMac, for example.

9 Comments

Will Robertson

I’m not sure the author is correct to call it a mono speaker. Seven small speakers can use beam forming to “shape” the acoustic signal, and can use reflections from the wall behind to help this. Of course it’s not the same as stereo, but it’s not the same as mono either.

I use the HomePod like a sound bar for an AppleTV, as well as for music and homekit. It’s a little annoying the AppleTV can’t always default to the HomePod for audio out, and that audio is often too loud for old movies at a volume of 3/10. I don’t think it’s useless but it is very much a v1.0 product.

I always thought the HomePod was too expensive and targeting the wrong market, as Kirk aptly points out. I’m someone who almost always gets Apple products, but this was expensive and not worth the sound quality.

I keep forgetting that HomePod came out after AirPods, because most of those listed problems seem like they were addressed with the latter.

I own two of them. I've never had a complaint from anyone regarding the sound quality or (mono/stereo). For me it works just fine as a Q&A machine (set a timer, alarm, what's the weather forecast) and for music. I'm in a small home - a HomePod in LR and a HomePod in BR are sufficient to fill the house with sound.

Kirk has been a longtime iTunes complainer and general crank about anything music-related at Apple, especially on his podcasts. (He has complained for years about Apple's poor handling about Jazz and Classical data in iTunes, and I've never head him say a positive thing.) He sometimes makes good points but this is more a poorly-reasoned polemic. As a longtime musician who's bought thousands of $$ worth of studio monitors, I got one for the bedroom and was so impressed by the sound quality I got a 2nd one for the living room. AirPlay 2 is a massive improvement over the original AirPlay, sync works great, and the basic use of Siri (timers, weather, news, Apple Music) has worked without any incidents for the 6+ months I've used it.

Kirk takes his music seriously, his words have quite a bit of merit, for me anyway. Very interesting write up.

@Chip
I respect your opinion as well and thank you for sharing your experience. However, and with all due respect because I do not think your comment is disingenuous, it did stir memories of Steve Jobs quip about replacing his expensive home stereo with an iPod HiFi. Thank you for the memory and the chuckle.

I would be curious if you are familiar with the Sonos system @Kirk compared to the HomePod? Also, do you think taste in music could affect preference in the aural characteristics of a speaker? Thanks!

@Chip My read is that Kirk is overall a fan of iTunes. Why else would he bother writing books and a long-running column about it? But I think he, like many of us, liked it better towards the beginning when it was more focused on the music. And when you know an app really well, you know its flaws really well, and that tends to be what gets talked about.

Sören Nils Kuklau

Apple released the HomePod in February, 2018, and the device has never seemed to catch on.

This is written as a factual statement, and is also the very first sentence, which I find a bit problematic.

What does it even mean for a product to “catch on”? If there were sales goal numbers internally, we don’t know them.

Have the AirPods “caught on”? Arguably; they seem to have become a fashion statement. But that was never in the cards for HomePod; you set it up in private rather than walk around with it in public.

Have they sold as many HomePods as Amazon Echos? Probably not. But Apple clearly didn’t position them to compete in the mass market.

Kirk brings up Sonos, but they’ve been around way longer, and yet their product isn’t a mass market item either. Have they “caught on”?

(The remainder of the article is far more nuanced than its initial statement, so I’m not sure why he chose to start out that way.)

This may be true, but it’s a mono speaker

That discussion seems a bit moot to me.

A single HomePod clearly cannot deliver audio from two distinct locations (that are horizontally more than a few cm away from each other), which is what a lot of people would expect from a stereo speaker.

Whether it’s technically mono or stereo doesn’t matter. HomePod can only use psychoacoustics to try and trick our ears into it feeling that way. Whether you think that makes for good audio, or whether you think it’s OK to buy two of them to make the audio better, is really quite subjective.

Is HomePod a stereo speaker? I don’t know. Is Apple trying to spin its audio as being very good, and using pseudoscientific liberties? Yeah.

I do wish HomePod had line-in. Or HDMI-in. Or anything-in that isn’t AirPlay.

(It’s part of why I don’t own one. For now.)

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