Apple's HomePod received its first substantial update since launch yesterday, at last bringing the delayed AirPlay 2 and stereo pairing features to the public. It also came with a nice surprise in the form of Calendar support, the only new Siri domain added to the device thus far.
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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.
Today Adweek shared a mini-documentary that offers a behind the scenes look into Apple's biggest marketing success of 2018 so far: the Spike Jonze-directed HomePod video, 'Welcome Home.' The nearly seven-minute video can be viewed here.
Adweek creative editor Tim Nudd shares an overview of what the making-of video documents:
In particular, we get immersed in the choreography (Jonze, choreographer Ryan Heffington and movement coach Theo Lowe all work with FKA twigs on her irresistible interplay with the apartment, and herself) and the production design (the set expanded on hydraulics to allow Jonze to shoot practically). But we also see how other elements came together, like the lighting, music and VFX (it turns out there was very little CGI).
There are other little gems in here, too, like FKA twigs auditioning for Jonze via FaceTime, and Jonze himself dancing with an office chair. (He never stops moving throughout, and you get a real sense for how physically plugged in he is to the ideas here.) We also catch a glimpse of Dunkirk cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema working with Jonze on the film—he also shot the “It’s a Tide Ad” spots for the Super Bowl (working with directors Traktor).
If you enjoyed 'Welcome Home,' the documentary is well worth checking out. Besides being fascinated to see how much work went into the four-minute ad, I especially enjoyed getting an inside look into the creation of the video's expanding apartment, which, amazingly, was done with practical effects.
Every year soon after WWDC, I install the beta of the upcoming version of iOS on my devices and embark on an experiment: I try to use Apple's stock apps and services as much as possible for three months, then evaluate which ones have to be replaced with third-party alternatives after September. My reasoning for going through these repetitive stages on an annual basis is simple: to me, it's the only way to build the first-hand knowledge necessary for my iOS reviews.
I also spent the past couple of years testing and switching back and forth between non-Apple hardware and services. I think every Apple-focused writer should try to expose themselves to different tech products to avoid the perilous traps of preconceptions. Plus, besides the research-driven nature of my experiments, I often preferred third-party offerings to Apple's as I felt like they provided me with something Apple was not delivering.
Since the end of last year, however, I've been witnessing a gradual shift that made me realize my relationship with Apple's hardware and software has changed. I've progressively gotten deeper in the Apple ecosystem and I don't feel like I'm being underserved by some aspects of it anymore.
Probably for the first time since I started MacStories nine years ago, I feel comfortable using Apple's services and hardware extensively not because I've given up on searching for third-party products, but because I've tried them all. And ultimately, none of them made me happier with my tech habits. It took me years of experiments (and a lot of money spent on gadgets and subscriptions) to notice how, for a variety of reasons, I found a healthy tech balance by consciously deciding to embrace the Apple ecosystem.
Today the HomePod is all about music, but it could be so much more.
From its debut last June at WWDC to launch day this February, HomePod's primary purpose has been clear: it's an Apple Music accessory. Music has been the sole focus of Apple's marketing, including the recent Spike Jonze short film – yet it's an angle many have trouble accepting.
In a pre-Amazon Echo world, HomePod being a great Apple Music speaker would have been enough. But in 2018 we expect more from smart speakers, and we expect more from Apple.
HomePod succeeds as a music speaker, but it's not the device we expected – at least not yet. Due to its arrival date more than three years after the birth of Alexa, we expected a smarter, more capable product. We expected the kind of product the HomePod should be: a smart speaker that's heavy on the smarts. Apple nailed certain aspects with its 1.0: the design, sound quality, and setup are all excellent. But that's not enough.
HomePod isn't a bad product today, but it could become a great one.
By becoming a true hub for all our Apple-centric needs.
Apple posted a short film on its YouTube channel called ‘Welcome Home’ directed by Spike Jonze, starring singer/dancer FKA twigs, and featuring the song ‘’Til It’s Over’ by Anderson .Paak. The video, which promotes the HomePod, is the first since the device was released to spotlight Siri. The spot begins with a young woman’s long, crowded commute home in the rain. She arrives home wet and exhausted barely able to muster “Hey Siri, play me something I’d like.’
She sits down on the couch in a small apartment as the HomePod begins to play ’Til It’s Over.’ As she starts to relax and sway to the music, she discovers she can extend her apartment with simple hand gestures. The remainder of the video is an energetic and colorful dance routine that shows off FKA twigs’ talent as she moves around the apartment extending the walls. The spot ends with FKA twigs opening her eyes as she lies on the couch apparently waking from a dream.
Video can’t capture the sound quality of the HomePod that Apple points to as one of the device’s main selling features. Instead, Jonze captures the convenience of asking Siri to play something you’d like. Siri has serious limitations on the HomePod, but controlling Apple Music works well and is a strength that I’m not surprised to see Apple highlight.
Nearly a week after its launch, HomePod owners are discovering that in some cases, the device leaves a white ring in its place when stored on wood furniture. John Chase of The Wirecutter reports:
An unhappy discovery after we placed a HomePod on an oiled butcher-block countertop and later on a wooden side table was that it left a defined white ring in the surface. Other reviewers and owners (such as Pocket-lint, and folks on Twitter) have reported the same issue, which an Apple representative has confirmed. Apple says “the marks can improve over several days after the speaker is removed from the wood surface,” and if they don’t fade on their own, you can basically just go refinish the furniture—the exact advice Apple gave in an email to Wirecutter was to “try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method.”...In other testing, we have seen no visible damage when using it on glass, granite countertop, nice MDF, polyurethane-sealed wood, and cheap IKEA bookcases.
Among the MacStories team, Federico and John have both encountered this issue, while I have not. Serenity Caldwell of iMore explains the inconsistency:
Not all whole-wood table finishes are alike: Certain wood oil treatments include drying agents that have organic compounds present in them — compounds that could potentially interact with the silicone in Apple's base.
It appears that for those who will face this problem, it doesn't take more than a couple days for the white ring to become at least faintly visible. If you're not seeing anything after several days of HomePod use, it's likely that your furniture will be fine, but if you're concerned, using a coaster seems like the best low-budget fix at this point.
Update: Also per Serenity Caldwell, Apple has now put together an official support document, dubbed "Cleaning and taking care of HomePod." It provides official details regarding HomePod and wooden surfaces:
It is not unusual for any speaker with a vibration-dampening silicone base to leave mild marks when placed on some wooden surfaces. The marks can be caused by oils diffusing between the silicone base and the table surface, and will often go away after several days when the speaker is removed from the wooden surface. If not, wiping the surface gently with a soft damp or dry cloth may remove the marks. If marks persist, clean the surface with the furniture manufacturer's recommended cleaning process. If you’re concerned about this, we recommend placing your HomePod on a different surface.
The new document also addresses the matter of cleaning HomePod – only with a dry cloth, or, if necessary, a slightly damp one – and informs users to keep HomePod away from liquids and heat sources.
At the start, you should know two things about me: HomePod is the first smart speaker I've ever owned, and I'm all-in on the Apple ecosystem.
These facts make me the HomePod's perfect customer, and they will surely color my comments. I'm guessing if I had more experience with other smart speakers, or I didn't own nearly every modern Apple product, my thoughts on HomePod would be different. That said, here are my early impressions.