Amid yesterday’s packed WWDC keynote, where iOS 13, iPadOS, the new Mac Pro, and more were announced, Apple also shared a few exciting updates coming this fall for its music-focused accessory products: HomePod and AirPods. The HomePod will soon support multiple users, a new Handoff feature, and radio apps, while AirPods will gain audio sharing and a special Siri feature for messaging.
Posts tagged with "homepod"
This past week we learned that the company has hired a new head of home products, which makes me ask the question: What exactly does Apple expect Sam Jadallah to do? Is his job to make deals with HomeKit partners and make the HomePod more successful? Or is this the sort of thing that happens when a company shifts gears because it realized that its old strategy wasn’t working?
That story got Snell thinking about how Apple could expand its current lineup of home products. He proposes two: a soundbar that integrates HomePod and Apple TV functionality and a wireless mesh networking system.
Both make a lot of sense. The technology for the soundbar has already been developed and it’s a device that sits in a unique position in a home entertainment system where it could both enhance the viewing experience with superior sound and facilitate the delivery of content from Apple’s services.
Why Apple abandoned the wireless home networking market remains a mystery. Although it may not have been as profitable as other product lines, networking sits at a strategic crossroads between all of Apple’s products. Whether it’s AirPlay, Handoff, the Universal Clipboard, other Continuity features, or something yet to come, controlling the network over which those experiences are delivered helps ensure that they work seamlessly.
Sam Jadallah, who previously worked at Microsoft and later ran a smart lock startup called Otto that was shuttered, certainly has the background to run Apple’s existing HomeKit programs, but like Snell, I hope his hiring is a sign that something bigger is on the horizon.
At the end of November, Amazon announced on its blog that Apple Music would be coming to Echo devices the week of December 17th. The music streaming service showed up on Echos a little earlier than expected last Friday, December 14th.
Today, Apple began promoting Apple Music’s availability on Echo devices through three different channels. The Echo integration first appeared on the App Store, which gave the Alexa app top billing in a Today tab story that highlights the new feature. Apple is also promoting the Echo integration on the Apple Music features page of its website along with other third-party devices like PCs, Android devices, and Sonos music players. Finally, late in the day US time, the Apple Music app began delivering push notifications highlighting the Echo feature.1
Amazon’s Echo devices aren’t the first third-party hardware to get Apple Music support as the Apple Music website demonstrates, but it is unusual for Apple to promote another company’s hardware alongside Apple Music to this degree. It’s also surprising because, in the two weeks that followed Amazon’s announcement, Apple said nothing. Nor did it acknowledge the change four days ago when the Alexa app was updated.
I wouldn’t be surprised if promoting the Echo was part of a bigger deal that got Apple products back on Amazon shelves in early November. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s still interesting to see Apple, which offers the competing HomePod, put so much promotional weight behind Amazon’s smart home speaker.
- I’m not a fan of promotional push notifications like these, which violate App Review Guideline 4.5.4 against using push notifications for advertising and promotional purposes. Unfortunately, that’s a rule that Apple has violated itself before and one that it has never meaningfully enforced against third parties. ↩︎
Apple’s online Machine Learning Journal has published a paper on the methodologies the HomePod uses to implement Siri functionality in far-field settings. As Apple’s Audio Software Engineering and Siri Speech Teams explain:
Siri on HomePod is designed to work in challenging usage scenarios such as:
- During loud music playback
- When the talker is far away from HomePod
- When other sound sources in a room, such as a TV or household appliances, are active
Each of those conditions requires a different approach to effectively separate a spoken Siri command from other household sounds and to do so efficiently. The report notes that the HomePod’s speech enhancement system uses less than 15% of one core of a 1.4 GHz A8 processor.
Apple engineers tested their speech enhancement system under a variety of conditions:
We evaluated the performance of the proposed speech processing system on a large speech test set recorded on HomePod in several acoustic conditions:
- Music and podcast playback at different levels
- Continuous background noise, including babble and rain noise
- Directional noises generated by household appliances such as a vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, and microwave
- Interference from external competing sources of speech
In these recordings, we varied the locations of HomePod and the test subjects to cover different use cases, for example, in living room or kitchen environments where HomePod was placed against the wall or in the middle of the room.
The paper concludes with examples of filtered and unfiltered audio from those HomePod tests. Regardless of whether you’re interested in the details of noise reduction technology, the sample audio clips are worth a listen. It’s impressive to hear barely audible commands emerge from background noises like a dishwasher and music playback.
In closing its event at the Steve Jobs Theater today, Apple announced that next Monday it will launch the latest software update to HomePod, version 12.0. The headline feature is multiple timers, a missing function often derided at HomePod’s launch, and it’s joined by the ability to make and receive phone calls, perform Siri song requests with lyrics alone, and rounding things out, support for Find My iPhone and new languages.
Apple has released version 7.8 of the firmware for compatible AirPort Express WiFi routers to add AirPlay 2 support. Although there had been hints in iOS betas that the latest iteration of Apple’s peer-to-peer streaming technology was coming to the Express routers, its addition still came as a surprise since the routers were discontinued in April.
One of my favorite features of the AirPort Express is an audio out port that works with a 3.5mm analog or digital cable. Add an amplifier and speakers, and you’ve got a nice music streaming setup.
As soon as I heard about the new firmware, I had to try it. I have a Griffin 20 that was designed for use with the first generation AirPort Express that looked more like a MacBook power brick than an Apple TV. Unfortunately for Griffin, Apple changed the form factor of the Express in 2012, the same year its amp was released.
Still, I used the Griffin 20 and a first generation AirPort Express to drive speakers on the outside of my house for years. It was a simple way to enjoy music outside. It came with the downside that the original iteration of AirPlay had buffering issues, so I usually needed to leave my iPhone inside the house to stream. More recently, my six-year-old Express started to become flakey too.
I couldn’t update the first-generation Express to the new firmware, but I had a newer second-generation model in a box in my basement. I dusted it off, plugged it in, and updated the firmware using the Airport Utility app. I had to fiddle with my overly-complicated network setup to get it to work properly, but it didn’t take long before the Express was working.
The final step was to go into the Home app and add the Express as a new accessory. Because it predates HomeKit accessories, I couldn’t scan a code to add the Express. Instead, I added it manually using the ‘Don’t Have a Code or Can’t Scan?’ button in the Home app. Now, I have music playing perfectly synced on our back patio using the AirPort Express and in our living room using my HomePod and Apple TV. I also have the convenience of picking my outdoor speakers from the sources list in Control Center and using Siri to move music to those speakers without the buffering issues I experienced with the first version of AirPlay.
It’s a shame the AirPort Express was discontinued. Not every situation justifies the expense of a HomePod. Nor are those devices practical outdoors or in other environments. Fortunately, the AirPort Express remains an option for now if you already own one or can find a used or refurbished one for sale.
Apple is releasing iOS 11.4 today, alongside a companion 11.4 update for the HomePod. Ahead of that release, Apple Newsroom shared details on exactly what we can expect.
Today’s update will at last bring AirPlay 2 to iOS and, by extension, the HomePod. This will enable the multi-room audio and stereo pairing features that Apple first demonstrated on-stage at last year’s WWDC. More in-depth coverage of AirPlay 2 features will be available in our iOS 11.4 overview, publishing when that update launches. And look out for a hands-on story covering the HomePod’s new stereo pairing feature after it becomes available.
One other noteworthy feature coming to HomePod today is the addition of Calendar support. This works similarly to the other Personal Requests features of HomePod, which include Notes, Messages, and Reminders: only the Apple ID used to set up your HomePod will be able to share its Calendar information, and that data can only be accessed when you’re at home on the same Wi-Fi network as HomePod.
Finally, Apple has announced three countries where HomePod will be launching soon: Canada, France, and Germany. The smart speaker will be available beginning Monday, June 18th.
One of Workflow’s least known functionalities is its ability to get details about the hardware it’s running on and control some system features. Among these, Workflow can both retrieve an iOS device’s current volume level and set the volume. A few days ago, I realized I could make a workflow to quickly adjust my iPhone’s volume when streaming music to one of our HomePods. Unlike other automations I’ve crafted over the years, this workflow was quite a success in our household and I felt like it was worth sharing with the wider MacStories audience.