Friday, March 31, 2023

HomePod Late Adopter

We’ve been using an Amazon Echo Dot in our kitchen for several years, principally for timers and answering basic questions. Lately, it has not been responding as reliably. Also, it never worked well as a Bluetooth speaker for my iPhone because the phone would always reconnect to the Echo, even when I was in a different room trying to use my AirPods or just the built-in speaker. I decided to finally give HomePod a try and ordered a HomePod mini about a month ago. This is my experience as someone who has read about HomePod and since the beginning but never actually used them until now.

Setup and

The power cable is USB-C, non-detachable, and too short for where I wanted to put the HomePod on a dining room shelf. I had a variety of power extension cables already, but I didn’t really want the power brick to be hanging in the air. I provisionally chose a different location. A better solution would be to get a USB-C extension cable.

Setting up the software was really easy, though for some reason the Home app wouldn’t display my name properly. I was instead shown as “AT&T Voicemail,” which I guess came from an old contact I had created for calling my own phone number. When I deleted that contact it showed my proper name.

The Home app is disappointing, both in the available features and in the iOS-style interface of the Mac version. Confusingly, some of the features are available from Control Center, but if I start there there’s no button to get into the full settings; I have to start over by going through the Home app.

At one point, Apple support asked for my serial number, and turns out that this is visible but not copyable in the Mac version. (Apple support chat transcripts also aren’t copyable, except after screenshotting and using Live Text.)

The command to Restart HomePod doesn’t seem to work from either iOS or macOS. It doesn’t report an error, but it doesn’t do anything, either. Apple support said I should instead unplug the HomePod mini to restart it—shades of the Studio Display—but that’s easier said than done with the non-detachable power cable.


Siri is really slow, so even though it supports multiple timers I still prefer to use Alexa for that. Also, there’s no way to customize the sounds for timers or alarms. It seems worse at understanding weather questions than Alexa. General questions often tell me to open my iPhone to see the information, rather than speaking it to me.

Siri does have some advantages, though. It’s handy to be able to use Find My to ask where family members are. It can also check my calendar and make reminders that get imported into OmniFocus. I thought it would be great for adding reminders, hands-free. My phone doesn’t respond to Siri from my pocket, and Siri on my watch doesn’t work when I’m doing the dishes. Making reminders with HomePod works but is annoying because it repeats the entire text back to me. There’s a setting in iOS called Siri ‣ Accessibility ‣ Spoken Responses ‣ Prefer Silent Responses, but this only seems to affect my phone, not HomePod. This is also annoying when requesting music; it speaks the whole title and artist before playing the song. These can be especially long and uninteresting for classical pieces.

Multiple devices are a problem because Siri doesn’t always know which one I’m talking to. There doesn’t seem to be a way to say “Hey, HomePod” to disambiguate. It’s supposed to be automatic but often chooses incorrectly. It seems like the only thing you can do to be sure HomePod will respond is to turn off “Hey, Siri” on certain devices, but I don’t want to do that.

In summary, we still use the Echo for everything we were doing with it before, but now we use HomePod and Siri for music and for tasks that Alexa can’t handle or where we want a second opinion.

Playing Music

The sound quality from the HomePod mini is better than with the Echo, but I have higher expectations because I’m usually using it for playing music rather than talking with a voice assistant. The biggest problem is that there’s very little bass. There does not seem to be a way to adjust that on the HomePod itself. When AirPlaying, it seems to respect the EQ preset on my iPhone, but the effect was slight and I don’t want to change that setting because it also affects my AirPods. Overall, I would say that the sound quality is reasonable considering the size of the device, but I did not enjoy it.

I’ve heard lots of complaints about AirPlaying music, but it’s worked well for me. It certainly seems more reliable than Bluetooth.

But my goal is to avoid AirPlay where possible and have the HomePod play most music directly. I’d long had a mental block about HomePod because it doesn’t support Home Sharing (to play music from my Mac’s library) and I didn’t want to pay for iTunes Match or risk it messing up my library. Still, we’ve purchased a lot of music from the iTunes Store, and HomePod has access to that.

Forced Apple Music

The initial experience of playing music directly from HomePod was confusing. I would ask for a random album from a certain artist, and it would play an album that I was sure I had ripped from CD—and so it shouldn’t have access to. It would also play random songs that I had not purchased or even heard of. It seemed like this must have been coming from Apple Music, but I had disabled that in the Home app.

Eventually I figured out from the Subscriptions screen on my iPhone that, despite declining the free Apple Music trial, I had been enrolled in a free 7-day preview for Apple Music Voice. Apple’s support couldn’t explain why this had happened or why Apple Music was being used when I had turned off Apple Music as a music source. They also told me that there was no way for me to remove the subscription; I had to wait for the trial to end.

So there are really three issues here: being opted into a preview that I didn’t want, the switch to disable Apple Music not working, and not being able to remove the subscription until after it expired. I said that I wanted to remove it right away so that I could see, during the return period, how well HomePod worked without Apple Music. Eventually, a senior advisor was able to directly remove the preview subscription from my account.

Music and Siri

Requesting music with Siri is barely adequate, except for classical music where it’s almost useless. I can request songs and albums by name, and sometimes it works but sometimes it just says, “Sorry, there was a problem with Apple Music”—even though I’m using the iTunes Store, not Apple Music. With my iPhone, I can ask Siri for a random song or album by a certain artist, but this never works with HomePod. It just reports that it couldn’t find anything (again, “in Apple Music”).

I wish I could ask Siri which albums or artists are available, but that doesn’t seem to be possible. Nor does it support my playlists, even the ones that consist only of songs that I purchased from Apple. The Siri documentation is sparse and geared towards Apple Music, so it’s not even clear which commands are intended to work. I ended up creating a smart playlist that shows my purchased music. HomePod is kind of like the streaming video experience, where you have to know the source of the content in order to initiate playback in the right way, even though the sound is ultimately coming out of the same device. Of course, there’s no support for third-party podcast apps, so I can’t use Overcast via Siri and have to initiate it via AirPlay.

Missing Purchased Music

With a playlist of my purchased music, I thought I would eventually learn which albums I could request from Siri and which I’d have to initiate via AirPlay. Instead, I got more and more frustrated as Siri sometimes worked and sometimes failed, no matter how many times I made simple, specific requests. I eventually found that the problem wasn’t my inconsistent speech or phrasing but that certain purchased albums (and their individual songs) were not accessible on HomePod via Siri at all. I hadn’t considered this as a possibility because these same albums work via Siri on my iPhone and show up in the list of Purchased Music on all my devices. Oddly, the albums do not show up as purchased if I search for them in the iTunes Store. It shows the button with the price as if I had never bought them. I went through my purchase history and found more than 25 albums that are in this inconsistent half-purchased state. These are exactly the ones that don’t work on HomePod.

I chatted with Apple support and was told that there was a simple fix where the albums in question could be pushed back into my account, but that only a phone support agent could do this. Multiple phone support people said there was no such thing and wanted to treat this as a HomePod-specific problem. I eventually made it up to a senior advisor, with whom I spent several hours, over the course of a week, installing configuration profiles, trying different things, and gathering logs. We ran into multiple problems with enabling logging and submitting the logs, and some tests had to be redone because the expected information didn’t get saved to the log. Engineering then examined the logs and asked for more. Eventually, their conclusion was that the problem of inaccessible albums is a known issue and that there is no fix yet.

Apple also confirmed that I should be able to request music by artist. This works on my iPhone but never on HomePod, even for albums that are otherwise accessible there. I chose not to dig into that issue further. Now, I initiate nearly all playback from my iPhone, as that is consistent and reliable, though once music is playing I do find Siri useful for controlling it. My wife’s music is almost all from the iTunes Store. She uses Siri to play music directly on the HomePod and so far hasn’t encountered any inaccessible songs. She likes to request individual songs, so the artist limitation isn’t a problem.

Sensors and Automation

I was excited to use HomePod as a temperature monitor, so I can make sure our heat is working when we’re out of town. The temperature sensor consistently showed about 2°F warmer than it should, but that’s close enough. The humidity sensor seems to be off by a lot (showing 48% instead of 38%). The automation leaves a lot to be desired.

What I want is for HomePod to send me a notification or text message any time the temperature gets below a set level, but that does not seem to be possible. The Home app supports events triggered by a sensor, but these can only trigger actions for other HomeKit devices, e.g. playing or pausing the music. The best I could do was to create a shortcut that shows a notification if the temperature is low. Then I can use a Personal Automation in the Shortcuts app—not available for Mac—to run this shortcut at a certain time of day. If I want it to check the temperature every hour, I have to create 24 separate automations.

I set the notification to tell me the Current Temperature (using the magic variable), but it always shows the temperature in °C even though the HomePod is set to display using °F and the If statement in the shortcut also uses °F. The answer seems to be that I need to use the Convert Measurement action and then display the Converted Measurement variable.

What happens if the HomePod’s power or Internet is not working? Apple doesn’t make this super clear, but it seems like, even if the HomePod is set as a hub, personal automations are triggered by the phone rather than the HomePod or cloud. So, in the event of a problem, I should be able to get an error report on my phone. I created a condition in the shortcut for if the Current Temperature has no value, then unplugged the HomePod to test it, but this code was never reached. Instead, the shortcut reported a generic “Read/Write operation failed” error. At least I got an error, though. It turns out that handling the no value condition is still a good idea because that’s what will happen after resetting HomePod, if the “new” HomePod hasn’t been reselected in the shortcut.

Ghost in the Pod

We had a scary incident where, late at night, the HomePod mini spontaneously started playing a random song (Crofters: The Musical) that was not in my library and which I had never searched for. At the time, I had not yet figured out that I was in an Apple Music preview, so it was extra confusing not knowing where the song came from. In theory, no one else should be able to control our HomePod because it’s set to the strictest setting of only allowing people who are part of the home. I’ve read that sometimes the button is triggered by ghost taps and have now set the Touch Accommodations to hopefully make that less likely, though I’m not convinced that’s what happened. Wouldn’t a ghost tap, e.g. from one of the ladybugs we’ve seen recently, just resume the last song played?

Returning HomePod mini

I decided to return the HomePod mini, both because of the sound quality and because there was a chance of Siri working better on a HomePod 2. Apple was happy to facilitate this, even though the return period had ended during the time I was troubleshooting with them.

However, the return ended up not being straightforward because I couldn’t print the shipping label. Apple e-mails a link to their Web site, where you click a button and it’s supposed to open a print window for the label. However, the recently redesigned navigation bar at breaks this. When browsing directly, the navigation bar pops down on hover. When printing, a garbled version of the navigation bar is drawn on top of the shipping label. This happened with multiple browsers. I started a chat with Apple, and they offered to e-mail me a PDF of the label but said that this would take up to 24 hours. In the interim, I recalled that StopTheMadness has a workaround called Protect mouse movement for the hover menus. Unfortunately, it does not fix the printing problem (where there is no mouse movement), but the developer traced the problem to a bug in Apple’s CSS, which I was able to override by telling StopTheMadness to add the CSS:

@media only print {
    #globalnav { visibility: hidden }

for This hides the navigation bar when printing.

HomePod 2

The big HomePod also has a short power cable, but it’s removable, not USB-C, and has no brick. Unlike what others have reported, I found the temperature and humidity sensors to be identical to HomePod mini, i.e. not very accurate but good enough for my purposes.

The sound quality is much better than HomePod mini, particularly in the bass. It fills the room better, and I can hear it over the kitchen range fan without going near the maximum volume. Overall, it just sounds very clear. Still, I would say that the bass is a bit lacking, and while the sound is impressive for the size, HomePod is not magic. I did not find it to be notable compared with larger, older, cheaper, lower-tech speakers I’ve used. It’s good for my purposes, but now I understand why people buy HomePods in pairs. I would be interested to see a HomePod Max product that doesn’t prioritize size so much, or a HomePod nano that’s just a bridge, like the AirPort Express, to a standalone speaker.

Siri on HomePod 2 is faster than with HomePod mini but still seems slow compared with Alexa. It is still not able to access all of my purchased music, nor query it by artist.


My overall impression is that HomePod is OK but not great. As a late adopter of Apple Watch, I was pleasantly surprised that most aspects of that product seemed better and more thoughtfully designed than I had expected. I kept running into little details that impressed me. With HomePod and the Home app, it was the opposite. Never have I contacted Apple’s support more times about a single product, and with less success. For a product that’s more than five years old, it seems unrefined, and the features are curiously limited.

The listening history could have been a great feature, with integration across multiple Apple devices, but in reality it seems to be missing a lot of functionality and/or is inconsistent, to the point where I don’t even understand how it’s intended to work.

I’ve purchased a lot of music from Apple over the last 20 years, but Apple has done the bare minimum to honor those purchases and the library that I’ve organized over the years. Instead, I get an experience that’s seemingly deliberately bad to encourage me to subscribe to Apple Music.

In the end, I feel happy but defeated. Happy because the overall concept of the product is a good fit for my life right now. I’m happy with the sound quality from HomePod 2. I’m listening to more music lately and often enjoying it with my family rather than just my AirPods. When the content is purchased from Apple, and when Siri works, it’s glorious. As a fallback, my entire music library fits on my phone, and being able to play it via AirPlay—and pause and adjust the volume via Siri—is also pretty great. But I also feel defeated because I paid Apple a lot of money despite them doing a bad job in many respects. I have all Apple devices, everything at the latest version, and lots of Apple content. Apple is supposed to be at its best in this sort of situation, but HomePod just does not live up to its potential. Yet there’s no alternative that would clearly be better, so here I am.

Part of my negativity is that I have no expectation that Apple will ever improve the experience with purchased or ripped/downloaded music. It’s all about getting you to subscribe to Apple Music now. And I’m a bit worried that, as happened with the first-generation HomePod, this one may get slower and less reliable over time. The speakers themselves should last forever, but the software won’t. My first thought was that if only there were a line-in the hardware could outlast the software. But, though a line-in might be useful for other reasons, it wouldn’t really matter. Siri and AirPlay are the reasons to purchase a HomePod, and I would have no use for it without them. The ecosystem and the product are increasingly inseparable.


Update (2023-04-22): Rodney Haydon:

I am renting a car, and use Apple CarPlay to listen to my downloaded music on my iPhone. When I asked Siri to play one of the albums, it incorrectly chose a song I don’t have and automatically subscribed me to Apple Music 7-day preview. I was never asked if I wanted to join, and the only email I got said “Your Apple Music Voice Plan is now live. With your 7-day preview, you can play any song in the catalog with Siri.”

No way to unsubscribe, either. I’ve never had it where I was automatically subscribed to something I didn’t explicitly request. This is so wrong.

Andrew Abernathy:

I am not a fan of auto-expanding menus on web sites. If I overshoot when targeting something under the menu, suddenly a big part of the window is covered and I have to move the mouse way away to get the menu to hide again. (And then I have to be very careful as I target my destination again, lest the whole thing happen all over.) Plus in my experience (like just now), sometimes they get stuck and don’t disappear, so I have to do a bunch of waving around to trigger them to get out of my way.

Nena Farrell and Brent Butterworth:

No smart speaker we’ve heard sounds as good as a decent pair of bookshelf speakers, but the new HomePod performs well sonically—although not really better than its top competitors in the smart-speaker category.

Marco Arment:

At breakfast, Tiff said “play, volume 1”. Siri played an album entitled “Volume One” by an artist we’ve never heard of.

At lunch, I said “play music”, so it played random songs from only the same three early-2000s-rock artists it always thinks I like.

I then said, “Play new rock music”, it said it was playing the “top 25 new rock hits”, and it played:

  • Fleetwood Mac from 1977
  • Santana from 2007
  • A random 2021 country song
  • Don’t Stop Believin’

I stopped believin’.

Oh, I forgot to mention that every third or fourth song just ends abruptly and advances to the next — sometimes after only a second or two of playing, sometimes in the middle of the song.

27 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

David Beegle

Gosh. It is amazing how much of your experience mirrors our experience here at our home.

In the end, we did not return the HomePod mini and in fact added a second for the “stereo” functionality. It really is just for playing music by voice command and we still have two Echo devices in our home for everything else. I do have *hopes* that Apple will try to catch-up to the competition but like you, am pessimistic about it.

Thank you for publishing this. It was nice to have many of my own frustrations validated.

Harald Striepe

If you are subscribed to Apple Music/Apple One it includes Music Match.

"Part of my negativity is that I have no expectation that Apple will ever improve the experience with purchased or ripped/downloaded music. It’s all about getting you to subscribe to Apple Music now."

"I didn’t want to pay for iTunes Match"

My man, you overlooked the solution right there. Me and my 5,600+ album library with accurate metadata and artwork have had nary a problem with iTunes Match since it debuted yearsssss ago. You're obviously savvy enough to know to keep a separate copy of your music media, unsure what the concern would be with iTM "messing up your library". It would have easily fixed the 'Missing Purchased Music' section and you never would have had to write about it. Forgot what it costs nowadays but it's not more than $40/year, well worth it.

I do agree with the ghost taps though, I turned on the accessibility setting on the HomePod to prevent the taps but it disappoints me there's no way to reprogram what a tap on the HomePod does, I'd rather it just activate Siri.

Chris Johnson

Thanks for this detailed experience. I had been considering getting a HomePod 2 to replace at least one Echo. But even the music aspect seems suspect. I'll stick with Alexa for now.

@AS Why would iTunes Match fix a problem that only affects music I already purchased from Apple? Wouldn’t those songs not be matched in the first place?

Backing up the music media does not protect me from losing playlists or metadata that’s related to those files.

Dear Michael, I would not recommend you ever thinking about Apple Music. After many years of trying and suffering of data losses and turning my collection into a complete garbage, correcting it and suffering again and paying money for that, I must admit that I’ve been fooled and fooling myself. Music is obviously not their DNA, they stopped caring long time ago. It’s not to make you subscribing to Apple Music, they don’t care. No, iTunes Match won’t help you. It will chew all the metadata and spit out garbage. No, they won’t fix any issues. And we all know it.

I’ve been a subscriber to iTunes Match forever. Never had a problem with it and it has never messed up my files or metadata. My master library is on my Mac, about 15k songs I’ve ripped and added metadata. All my music appears on other Apple devices with zero problems, bough I can’t address if it works with a HomePod.

I stayed away from Apple Music forever but finally decided to try it about two years ago (after doing a final cleanup of my ripped library, backing it up in three places, and having a way to check its integrity). Been mostly ok and it hasn’t done any thing funny to my master library. I don’t add any tracks from Music to my library, though I suspect I could if I was careful.

Only had two real issues with Apple Music and how it interacts with my library. The first is that I have a lot of bootleg live concerts in my library. If I play one of those songs off the album (or from one of the ‘for you’ play lists), on my phone (and only my phone), if I have those live versions on the phone, it will usually play one of those live versions instead of the proper studio track. Seems to be matching only on artist and track title. Note if I go the album in my library tab it’s fine; it’s just playing from Apple Music.

The second issue is with tracks from Apple Music track that I have put on a playlist or favorited. I usually go purchase the music elsewhere as lossless and bring it in to my library. The aforementioned tracks usually have a problem with iTunes Match and don’t show up on my phone. Syncing my cloud library, deleting the offending tracks, then reimporting them fixes it. It is aggravating because I have to check each album I buy on my phone after importing, but it doesn’t really take long, and having my music everywhere with iTunes Match makes it worth it.

One thing I wish the HomePod Mini (and HomePod) had was a way to turn off the GLOWING LIGHT it has when playing any sound. Apple gives us these quiet soundscapes to help us get to sleep, then distracts our sleep with this dumb light.

As for playlists:

Even with iTunes Match, I too had to create iTunesStorePurchased playlists + AppleMusicTrialOnly playlists to play from when I'm not on an Apple Music trial. Otherwise, the Music app just stops playing (or plays a random song) when it hits a song you added from when you were an Apple Music subscriber.

@Michael Tsai

“Why would iTunes Match fix a problem that only affects music I already purchased from Apple? Wouldn’t those songs not be matched in the first place?”

Your issue with certain tracks being shown in your account as un-purchased is almost certainly a downstream effect of a rights/licensing issue. What likely happened is that Apple’s distribution rights for the song expired at some point in the past, causing the song to be unavailable for a time from the iTunes Store; once the rights were renegotiated/re-acquired, the song reappeared in the iTunes Store—but with a new unique ID unassociated with any previous purchases. I’ve seen the same thing happen both with movies purchased from the iTunes Store and with Apple Books—in fact, I’ve *re*-purchased (sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately) already purchased items due to this. (See the pending class action suit against Apple for revoking access to “purchased” iTunes Store media.)

Long story short: Because iTunes Match doesn’t care about *where* your music came from—matching it against whatever is currently in the iTunes Store catalog (usually, but not always, accurately, sometimes screwing up versions, etc.), uploading as an actual music file whatever *isn’t* in the catalog, and making it all available from the cloud—it effectively treats *all* of your music as “purchased” music (regardless of whether it was ever even purchased from iTunes to begin with). Thus, it should almost certainly solve your issues.

There are only two caveats (aside from the aforementioned issues with incorrect song version matching—which, by the way, you can sometimes fix by changing the track metadata to trick iTunes Match into realizing that it’s a different version):

1) I’ve rarely had weird issues related to albums comprising tracks from multiple sources being split in two or suffering other odd metadata-related conflicts—so the fact that you have albums composed of some “true” purchased tracks and some iTunes Match tracks *might* (but probably won’t) cause some issues; as a workaround, you might want to just hide all of your purchased music completely from within your iTunes account once enabling iTunes Match and rely on iTunes Match exclusively—I *think* that should work, but I’m not 100% sure.

2) You’ll want to make a full backup of your entire iTunes library folder (including all media files *and* the library file itself); this will save all of your music, your metadata, your playlists—everything. While iTunes Match generally seems to be pretty reliable, I *have* had several issues and some data loss over the years, especially when making changes to metadata of matched tracks (though this often seems to be compounded by a combined iTunes Match and Apple Music library—a circumstance that you won’t encounter). And if you ever stop paying for iTunes Match, be aware that your cloud library will go poof, so for that reason too, it’s crucial that you have a current local copy of your music library.

Overall, however, for $25/year, iTunes Match is a steal; I highly recommend it. (And as an added bonus, if you happen to have any songs in your library that were ripped or downloaded at a low bitrate, iTunes Match will give you a “free” permanent upgrade to a DRM-free 256 kpbs AAC Plus—again, as long as it matches to the correct version.)

“Backing up the music media does not protect me from losing playlists or metadata that related to those files.”

See above.

@Michael Tsai I forgot to add re: data loss with iTunes Match: Yes, I’ve also had playlists get corrupted or randomly deleted; but again, as long as you’ve followed my advice above about maintaining a local backup, anything that gets lost (once you notice it) should be able to be restored from a backup—though I’m not sure how easy it is to restore individual playlists; you might need to restore your whole library (and in doing so, might run into issues, as one often does with iCloud, convincing it to accept the new local library as the canonical truth).

@Jon I guess what you’re saying is that my “old” purchased version is likely to match the “new” version in the store and so won’t need to be uploaded? If this really is a lapsing rights issue, shame on Apple for not being able to figure that out quickly. And that should have been straightforward for them to solve automatically for everyone.

I’m sympathetic to bugs. They happen and can be hard to track down. But simply choosing not to handle a really obvious and common case is something else. Curiously, many of the affected albums have no reviews in the iTunes Store, which I don’t recall being the case at the time I purchased. So perhaps Apple’s associated data was lost in the renumbering, too. I wonder how much they’re making selling people the same albums multiple times.

Anyway, I have heard enough iTunes Match horror stories that I’m not going to take that risk. And I’m not going to pay Apple a subscription fee to access music that I already paid them for. In fact, I paid them a premium vs. Amazon or ripping CDs specifically so that I would have ongoing access via iCloud.

My complete shock upon buying and setting up a HomePod mini was that it isn't a Bluetooth speaker—it *only* supports AirPlay. AirPlay has an approximately two-second delay (supposedly deliberately for buffering purposes). This makes it out-of-sync when using it as an audio-out from a computer.

It kind of reminds me of that old joke where the programmers make toasters that get more and more complicated. I understand that the HomePod is not a speaker; it's a hub and an internet-capable streaming device. But that's no reason to not support the simple tasks as well.

I've read that one can use the HomePod to make phone calls, so apparently it has the ability to operate as a Bluetooth mic & speaker. But this functionality is limited to phone calls as far as I can tell. It would make so much sense to use this for teleconferencing, but the lag makes that impossible.

@Michael Tsai

“I guess what you’re saying is that my ‘old’ purchased version is likely to match the ‘new’ version in the store and so won’t need to be uploaded?”


“If this really is a lapsing rights issue, shame on Apple for not being able to figure that out quickly. And that should have been straightforward for them to solve automatically for everyone.”

Agreed. Lots (most?) of what Apple does these days seems to deserve some degree of shame. I’ve thought this through, and there is quite literally not a single task for which I use my Apple devices that is not touched, to some extent, by disruptive and obvious bugginess—ranging from glaring graphical glitches on the benign end to severe data loss or utter, outright, wholesale brokenness on the critical end. It’s become the exception, rather than the norm, for things to work at all—let alone to “just work.”

“Anyway, I have heard enough iTunes Match horror stories that I’m not going to take that risk. And I’m not going to pay Apple a subscription fee to access music that I already paid them for. In fact, I paid them a premium vs. Amazon or ripping CDs specifically so that I would have ongoing access via iCloud.”

Understood. If it’s an issue of principle, I get it. But if it’s over concern for your data, I’m not really sure that that’s fully rational, as there’s no harm in trying iTunes Match for a year if you have a local backup. (And in my opinion, while I would be loath to pay Apple a premium just to fix a problem that Apple caused—a ploy akin to the classic “Three Stooges” bit in which the Stooges seed a house with vermin only to show up at the door the next day selling their services as exterminators—iTunes Match offers enough of a value added proposition that it’s well worth the $25/year. Don’t forget, it makes your entire library, even tracks acquired elsewhere, available in the cloud—and thus on HomePod and the Music apps on all of your devices. And that’s not to mention the “free track upgrade” feature that I called out in my previous comment.)

@Keith I was wondering how it does phone calls since AirPlay is one-way. I accidentally switched a phone call from AirPods to HomePod once and couldn’t get it to switch back, as the iPhone somehow got locked on one screen so that I couldn’t access the audio control.

@Jon I think iTunes Match would be tempting if Siri worked better.

I haven't had these issues, but I've got both iTunes Match and Apple Music.

The issue I have had is more a Siri problem than a HomePod problem. Siri's ability to parse playlist names (and HomeKit device names, for that matter) is terrible, and it is easily confused if a user-created playlist/device name is similar to some other keyword that Apple has programmed.

For instance, I have a playlist named "Favorite Music." Asking Siri to "play my Favorite Music playlist" fails, because Siri decides "Favorite" is a keyword rather than the start of a playlist name. The workaround is (sadly) familiar to programmers: "Hey Siri, play my quote Favorite Music unquote playlist."

Or for HomeKit, I have a scene called "Dim" for my media room. At Christmastime, I wanted a separate scene so that "Dim" would have dim lighting but no Christmas tree (which reflects on the TV), and "Dim With Tree" would turn the tree on as well. With both scenes configured, Siri would only ever activate Dim. Asking "set the scene to Dim With Tree" would result in Dim being activated. Siri apparently only parses scene names until the least-greedy match. The solution was to rename "Dim With Tree" to "You Suck," so I could reliably activate that scene with "Hey Siri, set the scene to You Suck."

This issue affects all Siri-capable devices, not just the HomePod. But the HomePod doesn't have any way around them, because Siri is all you get.

As for transferring calls: if you're in a call, bringing your phone close to a HomePod for a few seconds will cause it to transfer the call to the HomePod, or vice-versa. It's more reliable if both devices support ultra-wideband Bluetooth (HomePod 2 and HomePod mini). If your HomePod is on your desk near where you charge or store your phone, it's easy to set this off by accident.

@Keith HomePod call support doesn't use standard Bluetooth protocols; I believe it's either a direct IP connection to your cell carrier (if supported) or a FaceTime Audio relay from your iPhone via Wi-Fi, just like how a Mac or iPad can receive audio from the iPhone. I believe Bluetooth is involved only for proximity detection and authentication.

Great review, thank you, that is very useful so that I do not even have to try it myself. I have my music collection, and I pay for iTunes match and do not want Apple Music, not because of the money, but because it will for sure degrade my music experience. And yes, I also do not hope that Apple will actually ever fix it. I hope it will be useful long enough until some other company offers an adequate replacement.

@Rob Do you mean that Siri understands “quote” and “unquote” to escape keywords or that you actually named your playlist “quote Favorite Music unquote” in the Music app?

@Michael Tsai I can only guess that it's using plain old Bluetooth to do this, but  doesn't seem to specify. They *do* say "To use these features, you need to set up your iOS or iPadOS device to make Personal Requests on HomePod," implying that once again MacOS has taken a back seat. Many of the web solutions for using a HomePod on a Mac Zoom call say to join the audio using your iPhone and then use Handoff. (Bleech!)

And yes the issue of "accidentally" doing things seems to be getting all-too-common. It is a difficult UX balance. You want the machine to be automatic and intuitive but you also want to give users options. Unfortunately, it appears that the needle is far to one side. The modern User Experience could very well be described as "Easy to do what MegaCorp wants me to do, but impossible to do what I want to do."

Ultimately, it’s just a disappointment. It is far too dependent on online services which do not work properly. In principle, it should be a conduit to Siri in much the same way that your phone is, and should give you access to the same power and content. In practice, of course, it’s nothing like that, and anything that is not an Apple first party service or feature is at a disadvantage or completely unsupported (and even Apple's own audiobooks don't work). This is in stark contrast to other Voice assistants, which have credible ecosystems through third party web services.

Agreed that iTunes Match is a partial remedy, albeit, with the caveats Jon notes. Use it responsibly and it can be useful. But, HomePod ought still to have support for Home Sharing or some other means to directly access media libraries on other Apple devices.

You can turn off the touchscreen and Hey Siri, use HomePod Mini as a home hub. So there's that.

@Michael Tsai I mean that, when you speak to Siri, it will convert the words "quote" and "unquote" to the equivalent punctuation, and it apparently then parses what you said using the quotes to help tokenize the input. So "Play my favorite music playlist" and "Play my 'Favorite Music' playlist" get interpreted differently by whatever is handling the text generated by Apple's speech-to-text engine. My guess is that "favorite" is a preprogrammed keyword, so if it's not quoted, it gets a special interpretation that's not sensible in my case.

@Rob Oh, that’s great, then.

Pierre Lebeaupin

Before you get a USB-C extension cable for power purposes, remember to double-check its ability to do carry more than 5V, it is never going to work as a power extension otherwise.

I am severely disappointed in the HomePod interface. I share your complaints about the Home app itself.

But playing things are so annoying. I wish I could use my phone to pick a song to play on the HomePod, instead I have to contort my words to get it to play. I wish I could pick a specific one to play that works.

And of course there are times where my AppleTV or iPhone will randomly connect to HomePods and start playing, and trying to get the phone interface to change the output is so difficult.

"Backing up the music media does not protect me from losing playlists or metadata that’s related to those files."

The 'Music Library' xml-ish file holds all of that playlist and metadata information... I'm going to assume that comment was an April Fools joke.

"Music is obviously not their DNA, they stopped caring long time ago. It’s not to make you subscribing to Apple Music, they don’t care. No, iTunes Match won’t help you. It will chew all the metadata and spit out garbage. No, they won’t fix any issues. And we all know it."

My typical music purchasing approach is buying 20-30 albums digitally off Bandcamp every couple of months, just did it as recently as last Wednesday to be honest. Added the albums in bulk to the MacOS music app, spent ~20 minutes polishing the metadata and spot-checking the album art (BC is very consistent with album art so that check is instantaneous). I don't even have to hit 'Update Genius' for the post-metadata edit files to be uploaded shortly after to my iCloud Music Library and because my iPhone is set to automatically download new Music added to the library, I was literally set for the weekend with new tunes locally downloaded on my 256 GB XS with absolutely minimal effort. With the iCloud Music Library, my ~49,000 song library is streamable anywhere from my iOS devices and downloading locally saves me for the incredibly rare moments where cell service let me down (e.g., rural Wyoming).

"But my goal is to avoid AirPlay where possible and have the HomePod play most music directly."

I only found this out recently due to a family sharing Apple One subscription that gave me Apple Music for the first time ever-- if Apple Music has what you're trying to stream (matching from your library), it'll directly stream it to the HomePod allowing your iOS device to still play different media. Not the case without Apple Music, you'll have to Airplay from the device on-hand.

"There’s a setting in iOS called Siri ‣ Accessibility ‣ Spoken Responses ‣ Prefer Silent Responses, but this only seems to affect my phone, not HomePod."

Depending on the action, I enabled this setting and home automation commands just give a blip noise coming from my HomePod.

"Multiple devices are a problem because Siri doesn’t always know which one I’m talking to. There doesn’t seem to be a way to say “Hey, HomePod” to disambiguate. It’s supposed to be automatic but often chooses incorrectly."

Haven't had this problem with my 2 iOS devices/HomePod in my 700 sq ft apartment for home automation commands (only time I use Siri).

I'm also marveled at the vast amount of comments here who are insistent on only operating the HomePod via Siri. I've never once tried to rely on it to play music I want. My library tends to have a lot of non-english words/artists/album titles that my dumbass American self would mispronounce so I just select the music to play via screen.

"I wish I could ask Siri which albums or artists are available, but that doesn’t seem to be possible."

I've pondered on this functionality for a while and I'm not sure it's good UX to receive an audio response to my query "Hey Siri, what Rush albums do I have in my library?" and having it audibly speak out 19 album titles while I'm sitting waiting to interrupt it when it hits the title I feel like spinning. (What if I asked for the Arckanum albums in my library, how would Siri verbalize their 2009 album 'ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ'?) This is where maybe the use of AR glasses would come into play and Siri would respond to this request with a visual response to this query and list out the albums I own from the artist.

"The listening history could have been a great feature, with integration across multiple Apple devices"

Again, only know this as of very recently but with Apple Music subscription, there's an accurate, integrated listening history across all my MacOS & iOS devices.

"I wonder how much they’re making selling people the same albums multiple times."

I've only had purchased iTunes Music Store file issues for purchased music prior to 2008. Everything afterwards has been fine over the years but I won't say I didn't have any issues at all.

With all this being said, my music listening experience isn't all sunshine and happiness, most notably I'm still dealing with an inoperable bug (silent failing of course) where my M1 Mini cannot airplay from the Music App to the HomePod. Been this way since I got the M1 in December of 2020 practically and while recent 16.4 releases of iOS and HomePodOS did fix it a little to where it actually worked this past week for the first time ever, it just broke again today for some reason and my only real tangible fix is restarting the M1 Mini.

Oh, another obnoxious issue I have with music-- since the feature debuted on iOS YEARS ago, I have always had the 'Optimize Storage' functionality enabled but it has NEVER EVER EVER worked. Updating the iPad to iOS 16 last year was a pain in the ass because the installer wouldn't fit due to local storage being full and the iPad was insisting on trying to offload apps (and failing, offloading was buggy and not working correctly) instead of relying on the 'Optimize Music Storage' which I had enabled to 16 GB (downloaded music on that iPad was sitting at 30-40 GB at the time of troubleshooting) and I had to manually delete all the music at once for the installation to work. If THAT wasn't the most opportune time for the setting to work, I don't know what is. If anyone here has ever seen the functionality actually work, please let me know. Last time I checked when I mentioned this bug to Apple a few years ago, their only solution was factory restore, which didn't seem that helpful.

@AS Apple itself says that the XML file only contains “some” of the metadata. It does include playlist information, but it’s not clear to me whether the Import Playlist command would work with that if the files got messed up. For example, if Music changed the metadata, and then the files got moved because I had the library set to be “organized,” then both the paths and metadata would be different from what’s in the old XML file, so I don’t see how it would be able to match up the songs.

I wouldn’t always want it to list all the albums, but it would be nice as an option. Currently, it doesn’t even work to ask for a random album by Rush. I either have to know the exact one that I want or pick it manually on my iPhone. With the latter, it will AirPlay so that it will tie up my phone and also stop playing if I leave the home unless I hand it off back to the HomePod (which hasn’t worked that reliably). Also, the listening history doesn’t work as well with other devices when using AirPlay.

The albums that were inaccessible include purchases as recent as 2016.

Music at Apple is such a disaster now. I don't like subscriptions for anything either and I think curating playlists for myself is a hassle. So I bought a Raspberry Pi with an audio board ("HAT") and play only Fip Radio streams which are great, varied and ad-free.

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