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Posts tagged with "homepod"

Hands-On with HomePod’s New Music Features for HomeKit, Shortcuts, and Handoff

New HomePod features.

New HomePod features.

Following the announcement of AirPods Pro earlier today, Apple also released iOS, iPadOS, audioOS, and tvOS 13.2. Among various features (which we’ve detailed in a separate story here), one of the key improvements in this suite of software updates is extended flexibility of the HomePod’s music playback abilities.

In fact, by updating to the latest version of Apple’s software, you’ll gain a variety of new audio-related functionalities for HomePod, ranging from the ability to wave an iPhone atop the speaker to hand off audio to brand new integrations with the Shortcuts app as well as HomeKit scenes and automations. In this post, I’m going to go over all the different ways you can control audio playback on Apple’s Siri-integrated speaker, explain new shortcuts that can be built with these features, and share some first impressions based on my initial tests with today’s changes. We’re going to cover HomePod’s other new functionalities such as multi-user support and ambient sounds later this week. Let’s dive in.

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Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 13.2 with New Features, AirPods Pro Support, and HomePod Updates

Apple has released iOS and iPadOS 13.2, which is necessary to operate the AirPods Pro that will be in stores on Wednesday, October 30th, and adds several new features to iPhones, iPads, and the HomePod.

One of the most-anticipated features is Deep Fusion, which harnesses the power of the A13 Bionic Neural Engine to generate photos that combine elements of several exposures to bring out additional detail and textures in low light settings. The feature works with the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max, comparing multiple shots pixel-by-pixel to assemble a composite image that is better than any single image captured by the technology. To see examples of Deep Fusion in action, check out Federico’s recent photo tour of Rome. The Camera app has also gained the ability to change the video resolution from the app’s UI for the first time on the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max.

As has become something of a tradition each fall, Apple has paired today’s update with new emoji. Revealed in the iOS and iPadOS 13.2 beta, there are over 70 new emoji including people in wheelchairs, skin tone support for people holding hands, a sloth, a waffle, a yawning face, a skunk, garlic, a yo-yo, and a flamingo.

In addition to support for the new AirPods Pro, iOS and iPadOS 13.2 include the Announce Messages feature which enables Siri to announce new messages via a user’s AirPods as they arrive. HomeKit gains support for Secure Video and HomeKit routers too. Secure Video is designed for secure storage of video taken by home security cameras and includes support for detection of people, animals, and vehicles. Apps can also be deleted from an iPhone or iPad’s Home screen via a quick action for the first time.

Apple’s Shortcuts app received a few updates as part of iOS and iPadOS 13.2 too. The app now works with the Apple Watch, which will provide users with greater flexibility to run their shortcuts. Also, there is a new Feed URL property for podcasts and a Handoff playback action, which I can’t wait to try. Undo allows for reverting parameter changes too.

Apple has also added new Siri privacy settings that allow users to decide whether to allow Apple to store Siri and dictation audio. Siri and dictation histories can be deleted from Settings too.

Originally announced at WWDC, Apple has updated the HomePod with several new features. With multi-voice support, the HomePod can recognize the voices of different members of a household, allowing them to each receive an individualized experience. Another big HomePod feature is Handoff support for music, podcasts, and phone calls, which allows you to tap your iPhone on your HomePod to continue the audio on it instead of your phone. HomeKit scenes add support for music, and the HomePod can now play Ambient Sounds, which include things like the sound of a rain storm. Finally, users can set sleep timers for music or Ambient Sounds with their HomePods too.


New HomePod Details Emerge

The HomePod was conspicuously absent from yesterday’s Apple keynote. However, the company has quietly updated the HomePod’s product page with new details, as spotted by Benjamin Mayo of 9to5Mac.

According to Mayo,

Firstly, the radio stations feature is launching on HomePod on September 30. However, the previously-announced multi-user support and the music handoff features are not coming in September. Apple simply says ‘later this fall’. They also teased a new white noise mode that they hadn’t talked about before…

The new Ambient Sounds feature will allow users to play sounds including “ocean waves, forest birds, rainstorms, and more.”

Although Apple doesn’t say so, the September 30th timing for radio station support suggests that the feature is dependent on the release of iOS and iPadOS 13.1, which is due for release that same day. The company’s OS release schedule is far more complicated this year than in the recent past. For those interested in all the product launch and OS update release dates, we’ve collected a complete list of all dates on MacStories.

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HomePod Gaining Multi-Voice Support and Handoff, AirPods Add Audio Sharing and More

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.

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Is Apple Doing Enough in the Smart Home Market?

Jason Snell writing about a recent Apple hire for Macworld:

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.

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Apple Heavily Promotes the Amazon Echo’s Apple Music Integration

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.


  1. 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 Machine Learning Journal Posts Paper on How Siri Works on the HomePod in Noisy Environments

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.

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HomePod 12.0 Coming Next Week with Support for Multiple Timers, Phone Calls, and More

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.

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Apple Updates AirPort Express Firmware with AirPlay 2 Support

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.

The Griffin 20 and first-generation Airport Express.

The Griffin 20 and first-generation Airport Express.

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.

My outdoor AirPlay 2-connected speakers.

My outdoor AirPlay 2-connected speakers.

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.

Step one was to update a long-neglected AirPort Express.

Step one was to update a long-neglected AirPort Express.

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.

I changed the Express' name and added it to the Home app.

I changed the Express’ name and added it to the Home app.

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.

Music, everywhere.

Music, everywhere.

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.