The HomePod and HomePod mini are Apple’s smart speakers, taking on the Amazon Echo, Google Home and various other AI-equipped music-and-more players.
Like the incredibly popular Echo, both HomePod models can play music and perform various useful functions, such as tell you about the track that’s playing, set timers, search for and relay information found on the web, read your text messages, set calendar appointments, and a lot more.
In this article we’ll explain exactly what the HomePod and the HomePod mini can do, and what they can’t do. We’ll discuss the new features that arrived on the HomePod with iOS 14, and we’ll discuss the new features that have been promised for later this year.
Since October 2020 there have been two HomePods: the original costs £279/$299 and you can buy one from Apple here, the smaller HomePod mini costs £99/$99. But, if you don’t want to pay full price, there may be discounts to be had – over the summer of 2020 resellers were selling the original HomePod for £199.
One of the great things about the HomePod is the fact that Apple keeps regularly updating the software and adding new features. As a result Apple’s smart speaker has a lot more going for it than it did at launch back in 2018. First we will look at the new features coming later this year, before we run through everything the HomePod can do thanks to the subsequent updates it’s seen.
New HomePod features
Stream Dolby Atmos from Apple TV: a software update coming later this year will add the ability for a HomePod to stream Dolby Atmos audio from a Apple TV 4K. It will also be able to stream 5.1 and 7.1 audio from the Apple TV.
Make HomePod default source for Apple TV: Apple TV owners will soon be able to set the HomePod as the default sound option – so it will no longer to necessary to reselect it as an AirPlay device every time.
Use HomePods as an Intercom: Apple is introducing a new feature with the arrival of the HomePod mini – but it will also work with the original HomePod. The speakers (along with AirPods) can be used as an intercom so you can broadcast messages around the home. Assuming you have more than one HomePod or HomePod mini in your home you can record a message on one smart speaker and have it broadcast to other Apple speakers and AirPods in your home. You’ll also be able to send Intercom messages from the car (via CarPlay), via your AirPods, and even from your Apple Watch.
Apple HomePod features
When Apple launched the HomePod in February 2018 it was generally praised as a decent speaker, but with competition from Amazon and Google’s smart speakers, the HomePod’s less impressive AI left it at a disadvantage.
Most of the criticisms focused on what Apple’s intelligent assistant Siri couldn’t do on the HomePod. The limitations of Siri on the HomePod were highlighted by the fact that on other devices Siri was much more capable. However, some of these criticisms were a little unfair, as we found when we compared the HomePod head to head with the Google Home and the Amazon Echo
At launch the HomePod could do the following: (Here’s how to use HomePod)
- Play music from Apple Music and use various Siri commands to play certain songs, albums, artists or music genres or get information about the artist, or to ‘play other songs like this’.
- Play any music you have bought from iTunes Music Store.
- Play any music via your iPhone, be it a Spotify playlist, a radio station, or music obtained some other way, you could use AirPlay on an iPhone, iPad or Mac to stream it to the HomePod.
- Play podcasts.
- Get a Podcast powered news summary by asking Siri to ‘give me the news’.
- Control your HomeKit gadgets.
- Make and receive phone calls.
- Set up automations so that a single command can trigger a series of events. E.g. say Good Night and have Siri pick up the command on your HomePod and turn the TV and lights off and close the curtains. Read: Things you can ask Siri on the HomePod here.
- Read and reply to your Messages.
- Set timers and alarms.
- Let you know what the traffic will be like for your journey.
- Let you know what the weather will be like.
- Get local cinema times.
- Provide information that could be obtained from searching the internet, such as opening hours for your local grocery store.
- Play music directly from your iPhone without connecting to a WiFi network (we explain how to do that here).
- Translate. For example, you could ask: “Hey Siri, how do you say Good Evening in German” for example and it will tell you.
- Spelling. Similarly, if you are not sure how to spell a word, you can ask Siri on the HomePod to spell it for you.
HomePod isn’t just a speaker, it has some pretty nifty technology on the inside that means it’s able to produce high quality sound, maximises the bass without distortion, and use the A8 chip (as seen in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus) to analyse the space in which it is situated, so that the audio output is suited to the surroundings.
Features that arrived with iOS 11
- When HomePod first launched it wasn’t able to access your calendar, but that functionality arrived with the iOS 11.4 update. Since that update it has been possible to add events to your calendar.
- Multi-room & stereo audio support also arrived in iOS 11.4. Should you be lucky enough to own two HomePods this feature allows you to play music in stereo or to have HomePod speakers playing the same music in separate rooms. Here’s how to set up a stereo pair of HomePods.
Features that arrived with iOS 12
- Users able to place phone calls directly from the HomePod (previously users had to make or take a call on an iPhone and then hand it over to the HomePod).
- Users able to listen to voicemails on the HomePod.
- The HomePod works with Find My iPhone so users can use it to request that a sound is played on a lost iPhone (or any other Apple device you have set up for the service).
- Ability to set more than one timer. One of the most frustrating omissions from the HomePod at launch was that it wasn’t possible to set more than one timer – as you might have if you were cooking dinner, for example. Apple’s fixed that with the iOS 12 update.
- Change the WiFi network the HomePod is connected to. At launch the HomePod would automatically join the WiFi network that your iPhone is using. After the iOS 12 update getting the HomePod to switch to another network – perhaps because the one it’s on is too weak – became easier.
- iOS 12 also bought improved language support for more countries.
- The HomePod is able to relay the audio from group FaceTime calls.
You can search for songs by Lyrics. So, if you don’t know a song’s name, you could just say: “Hey Siri, play the song that goes …” And quote the lyric that you know.
- You can trigger Siri Shortcuts via the HomePod. This makes a big difference to how HomePod works with your Home Automation accessories, as you will be able to set off chains of events with a single command. For example, if you said “goodnight” Siri could automatically turn off the lights, turn down the heating, and close the blinds (if you have the right HomeKit accessories).
HomePod features that arrived with iOS 13
It was expected that the HomePod would gain a number of new features with the arrival of iOS 13 in September 2019, however, these new features weren’t available for launch. Instead, some arrived in mid October 2019, while others arrived later that month.
Initially one new feature arrived:
- It is possible to ask Siri on the HomePod to play a radio station. This means that it is no longer necessary to stream radio from an iPhone to a HomePod using AirPlay (which would run down your iPhone battery).
When iOS 13.2 arrived on 28 October 2019, the HomePod gained the following features:
- The HomePod can recognise your voice and only reveal private information to you. One of the problems with the HomePod is that, bring tied to a particular Apple ID, it is able to read and reply to Messages and add and cancel Calendar appointments. This is a useful feature, let down by the fact that anyone could speak to Siri on your HomePod to access this information. It’s possible to disallow such access in HomePod settings, but it’s not a great solution. That’s why it’s great news that in iOS 13 your HomePod knows who is speaking.
- Related to this, there is now multi-user support, so that more than one person’s Apple ID can be tied to a HomePod.
- You’ll be able to use the Handoff feature to transfer what you are listening to on your iPhone to the HomePod. For example, when you enter your house after your commute home you’ll be able to ‘Handoff’ the track currently playing to the HomePod.
- There is also better integration with the Shortcuts app in iOS 13, for better automation within ‘Scenes’.
When iOS 13.3 arrived on 10 December it bought the following features and improvements:
- Improves the ability of HomePod to recognize voice profiles
- Family members can enable/disable personal requests
- Fixes an issue that could prevent music playback from resuming on a stereo pair after a phone call
HomePod features that arrived in iOS 14
iOS 14 added a number of new features to the HomePod including the option to choose a third-party music streaming service, such as Spotify, as your default, and improved integration with the Apple TV and HomeKit.
It was already possible to play music from Spotify on the HomePod, but this had to be done via AirPlay. We explain how to listen to Spotify on HomePod here.
The new feature means that Spotify and other services such as Pandora will work with HomePod so you will be able to set them as your default music service and use Siri to control playback, rather than stream the music to the speaker via your iPhone. Users will also be able to replace Apple Books for audiobooks options such as Kindle.
The new software will also bring better integration with HomeKit (Apple’s software framework for controlling household appliances). For example, if someone rings your doorbell and you have a HomeKit camera you will get an announcement on the HomePod that will tell you who is at the door, based on the Faces you have attributed to people in your Photos.