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Posts tagged with "homepod"

Troubles with HomePod’s audioOS Beta

I’ve been running all of Apple’s betas, with the sole exception being watchOS 8. So far, the experience has been good. There are bugs, apps have crashed, and devices have restarted spontaneously here and there, but I haven’t been significantly slowed down on my iPhone, iPad, or Mac. In fact, I’m doing things like editing AppStories in Logic on Monterey, which isn’t the type of thing I’ve ever been able to do this early in a macOS beta.

However, audioOS, the OS that controls HomePods, has been as rough as Apple’s other OSes have been solid. I’ve been running the HomePod beta since the very beginning, and it’s been nothing but trouble. I haven’t seen overheating, which some users have reported, but I’ve had trouble with AirPlay and getting my HomePods, especially the minis, to stay connected to the Internet. So, when I heard that beta 3 was out and adds lossless streaming, I set out to update my HomePods right away.

My pair of original HomePods took a few tries, but I eventually got them updated using the Home app. The HomePod minis were more stubborn. The one in my office refused to connect to the Internet, so I couldn’t update it. I factory reset it not long ago, and I considered doing that again, but instead, I unplugged and replugged it, hoping that a restart would get it back on WiFi. I couldn’t tell if it had finished restarting, so I gave it a tap, which is when this started to play:

My HomePod was giving me Troubles alright.

My HomePod was giving me Troubles alright.

Yes, U2’s Songs of Innocence, the album that was given away to 500 million people with an iCloud account in 2014 that, as Russ Frushtick discovered and wrote about for New York Magazine, lives in an odd limbo in so many people’s music libraries around the world. Frushtick was frustrated because the album played automatically when he connected his iPhone to CarPlay. Was something similar at play here?

The odds that it was random chance certainly seemed too far-fetched to be a coincidence. With nearly 19,000 songs ripped, purchased, and added to my music library for well over a decade, I felt like I was being trolled by my HomePod mini as Bono belted out The Troubles. Even the title of the song felt like an elaborate troll.

I had to know, so I unplugged the HomePod mini a second time and then plugged it back in again. I waited a couple of minutes, tapped the top, and:

Not even the next song on the album.

Not even the next song on the album.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I also couldn’t help but wonder: Was I finger tapping Bono or Tim when I reached out to tap my HomePod mini?

Is that you in there Tim?

Is that you in there Tim?

Such is #betalife. The happy ending to the story is that after some more fiddling around, I managed to get my HomePod mini working again, playing my complete Music library, which is all I really care about.

All's well that ends well.

All’s well that ends well.

I’ve always thought the uproar over Songs of Innocence was a little overblown, but then again, I’m a U2 fan, even if that album isn’t anywhere near the top of my favorites. At least with The Troubles out of the way, I can see if I can stream some lossless Doja Cat now.


WWDC 2021: All The Small Things in Apple’s Upcoming OS Releases

WWDC keynotes cover a lot of ground, hitting the highlights of the OS updates Apple plans to release in the fall. However, as the week progresses, new details emerge from session videos, developers trying new frameworks, and others who bravely install the first OS betas. So, as with past WWDCs, we’ve supplemented our iOS and iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 coverage with all the small things we’ve found interesting this week:

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AirPods and HomePods Will Not Support Apple Music’s New Lossless Audio

When Apple announced that Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio are coming to Apple Music, it wasn’t entirely clear from the press release whether Lossless Audio would work with AirPods or HomePods. Since then, Apple has confirmed to T3 that AirPods Pro and AirPods Max do not support Lossless Audio. In a statement to Chris Welch of The Verge, Apple definitively said:

“Lossless audio is not supported on AirPods, any model,” an Apple spokesperson said by email.

AirPods support Spatial Audio, but if you want to listen to Lossless Audio, you’ll need wired headphones, an Apple TV, or a Mac connected to good speakers.

If you were thinking you might be able to get around the wireless limitations of Lossless Audio with a Lightning cable connected to your AirPods Max, you’re out of luck there too, according to Billboard’s Micah Singleton who raised the question with Apple. The Verge’s story confirms what Singleton was told too.

In addition, MacRumors reports it has confirmed from an unnamed source that the original HomePod and HomePod mini do not work with Lossless Audio either.


Deezer’s New HomePod Integration Supports Hi-Res Audio Playback

Source: Deezer.

Source: Deezer.

Late last year, music fans gained the ability to switch their default music service on the HomePod. Pandora was the first to offer the option last November and has now been joined by Deezer in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain, the UK, and the US.

Similar to other services, Deezer’s HomePod voice control functionality lets subscribers play albums, specific tracks and artists, as well as playlists using Siri. However, the most notable feature of Deezer’s HomePod integration announced by the company today is that its HiFi subscribers will be able to listen to hi-res audio using Apple’s smart speaker. Deezer’s Flow feature, which plays an endless playlist of subscribers’ favorite music, is also available.

The HomePod mini isn’t the best choice for hi-res audio playback, but this integration is an excellent option for Deezer users who have the original HomePod. As the only major streaming service without a hi-res alternative and with the original HomePod discontinued and rumors of a ‘new HiFi tier’ of Apple Music circulating, it will be interesting to see what Apple does in this area.


Apple’s Perplexing Home Strategy

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac, explains why Apple’s move to discontinue the original HomePod last Friday raises a number of questions about its home strategy and is cause for concern that extends beyond the HomePod itself:

Apple discontinuing HomePod isn’t impossible to understand, but the move does leave me with a number of questions for Apple. What’s the threshold for success for home products? What does Apple hope to achieve with home products? Why should customers trust Apple believes in its home products when it doesn’t lead the market? Why not just invest in AmazonSonos, and other smart home solutions that feel less like a hobby?

Hall puts his finger on something that’s been bothering me since news of the HomePod’s demise broke. In January, I reviewed the HomePod mini, and I love it; not because it’s the best-sounding speaker I’ve used, but because it fills a role that the larger, more expensive HomePod couldn’t fill in my home. However, the mini isn’t a replacement for the original HomePod. The smaller speaker can’t fill larger spaces like my living room the way the original HomePod can. Nor can the mini play the same role in my home entertainment setup.

As long as Apple continues to support the original HomePod, my multi-room audio and TV setup will be fine, but it’s also undeniably a dead end. It’s not as if I don’t have other options. There are plenty of good AirPlay 2 speakers available that I can eventually swap in, as Hall points out. However, coupled with the expensive, long-in-the-tooth Apple TV, I don’t have the confidence I once had in Apple’s home strategy, especially when it comes to audio and video entertainment, which feels especially strange to say when Apple Music and TV+ are so clearly important parts of the company’s service strategy. All of which led me to nod as I read Hall’s conclusion:

Remember when Mac users had similar concerns about pro machines in Apple’s lineup? Apple rightfully held a roundtable event with a small group of press to communicate its commitment to professional customers with the pending release of an iMac Pro and development on a next-generation Mac Pro.

That strategy was very effective at taking a step toward earning back the trust that was lost over time with Apple’s pro customers. Apple’s Friday night statement that it’s happy with the response to HomePod mini and no longer producing the original HomePod needs a lot of follow up.

Perhaps a spring media event will clear up some of the questions raised by the elimination of the HomePod. For now, though, Apple’s home strategy is more perplexing than ever.

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Apple Has Discontinued the Original HomePod

Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch broke the news late Friday that Apple has discontinued the original HomePod. In a statement to TechCrunch Apple said:

HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.

Already, the Space Gray HomePod is unavailable for delivery from Apple in the US, although you may be able to find one for pickup at your local Apple retail location.

The HomePod mini.

The HomePod mini.

As much as I’ve enjoyed my HomePod minis, and recognize the benefits of having more of them distributed throughout my home than I could afford to do with the original HomePod, I’ll miss it a lot. The mini is fundamentally more versatile than the original HomePod because of its size. However, despite sounding great for such a small speaker, its audio fidelity is no match for the larger model.

I hope this isn’t the end of Apple’s efforts in the high-end speaker market. Between the HomePod and the AirPods Max, the company has proven that it has the technical expertise to create superior speakers and headphones. This feels a lot like Apple is clearing the decks in advance of an event. Perhaps we’ll see an Apple soundbar paired with a new Apple TV or some other audio product before the end of the month.

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Eve Systems Announces That Its New Eve Energy Smart Plug and Eve Weather HomeKit Devices Will Support Thread

Source: Eve Systems.

Source: Eve Systems.

Ever since I got a glimpse of what Thread could mean to home automation by pairing a Nanoleaf A19 bulb with a HomePod mini, I’ve been excited about the technology’s future. We’re still in the early days of adoption by device manufacturers. However, today, Eve Systems announced a significant expansion of its Thread-compatible lineup of HomeKit products, giving the technology a substantial boost.

Eve had already added Thread to its window and door sensors and EU-compatible smart plugs. Today, however, the company said that US and UK-compatible versions of its Eve Energy smart plugs would be coming soon and that it will also release a weather sensor called Eve Weather. Eve is also updating its existing $99.95 Eve Aqua outdoor sprinkler controller to add Thread via a firmware update.

Thread, which I covered in-depth as part of my HomePod mini review is a wireless communication protocol that has the advantage of extended range, longer battery life, and security. Devices that implement it don’t require a separate hub either because devices like the HomePod mini act as a border router coordinating communications among devices and the Internet.

Source: Eve Systems.

Source: Eve Systems.

The new Eve Energy smart plug will be available in the US on April 6th and the UK on May 4th according to The Verge and will cost $39.95 in the US. In addition to working with Apple’s HomeKit technology, Eve Energy benefits from having a constant power source, which allows it to act as a border router like the HomePod mini, further extending the reach of Thread devices throughout your home.

Eve Weather, which has an IPX3 water resistance rating, tracks the outdoor temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. The device will cost $69.95 and be available in the US and Canada beginning on March 26th.

I’m glad to see more Thread-enabled products hitting the market. The promise of Thread has been difficult to test with so few devices available, but with the products announced by Eve Systems today and Nanoleaf’s existing lighting products, I expect that we’ll soon have a better idea of whether the promise lives up to the hype.


Apple Releases OS Updates with Better Music Hand Off for HomePod mini, Improvements to QR Code Scanning and Bluetooth Settings, the Unity Watch Face, and More

Today, Apple released iOS and iPadOS 14.4, HomePod 14.4, watchOS 7.3, which introduce a limited collection of new features along with the usual bug fixes.

On the iPhone and iPad, the Camera app can now scan smaller QR codes, which is handy for those tiny codes that are often used on product labels. The Bluetooth section of Settings has been updated with an option to identify the type of device connected to your iPhone, so it knows when headphones are connected for the purpose of sending audio notifications.

HomePod 14.4 adds a few new features that work in concert with the iPhone’s U1 chip. There is new visual, audible, and haptic feedback when music is handed off from an iPhone to a HomePod mini. The update also provides personalized listening suggestions when an iPhone is placed near a HomePod mini that isn’t currently playing audio. Media playback controls also appear automatically when an iPhone is nearby without having to unlock it first.

I have done some very preliminary testing of the new HomePod mini features and like them a lot. The haptic feedback is a quick slightly sustained vibration that lets you know that the music is being transferred. The animation that slides into view from the top of the screen includes a terrific little animation too. Bring your iPhone close to your HomePod mini again, and a button appears offering to transfer playback back to the iPhone. It’s a good example of how small changes together can make a big difference in the quality of the user experience.

The Apple Watch Unity watch face is part of watchOS 7.3.

The Apple Watch Unity watch face is part of watchOS 7.3.

As we reported earlier today, watchOS 7.3 includes the new Unity watch face. The colors of the face are inspired by the Pan-African flag and its shapes change throughout the day as you move. The ECG app has been added in Japan, Mayotte, the Philippines, and Thailand for Apple Watch Series 4 and later. Irregular heart rhythm notifications are now available in those same countries, plus Taiwan too. Apple’s release notes also mention the new Time to Walk feature in the Workout app, but that actually shipped yesterday with a server-side update.


Two Months with the HomePod mini: More Than Meets the Eye

As a smaller, affordable smart speaker tightly integrated with Apple services, the HomePod mini is a compelling product for many people. The mini is little enough to work just about anywhere in most homes. At $99, the device’s price tag also fits more budgets and makes multiple HomePod minis a far more realistic option than multiple original HomePods ever were. Of course, the mini comes with tradeoffs compared to its larger, more expensive sibling, which I’ll get into, but for many people, it’s a terrific alternative.

As compelling as the HomePod mini is as a speaker, though, its potential as a smart device reaches beyond the original HomePod in ways that have far greater implications for Apple’s place in customers’ homes. Part of the story is the mini’s ability to serve as a border router for Thread-compatible smart devices, forming a low-power, mesh network that can operate independently of your Wi-Fi setup. The other part of the story is the way the mini extends Siri throughout your home. Apple’s smart assistant still has room to improve. However, the promise of a ubiquitous audio interface to Apple services, apps, HomeKit devices, and the Internet is more compelling than ever as Siri-enabled devices proliferate.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been testing a pair of HomePod minis that Apple sent me. That pair joined my original HomePods and another pair of minis that I added to the setup to get a sense of what having a whole-home audio system with Siri always within earshot would be like. The result is a more flexible system that outshines its individual parts and should improve over time as the HomeKit device market evolves.

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