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Apple HomePod is finally arriving: 8 speakers, spatial awareness, easy pairing, cheaper than Google's Home Max

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It was almost a year ago, at Apple's WWDC 2017 event, when we first heard official word about the Apple HomePod. Basically, a smart speaker, much like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. After some silence, however, it turned out the HomePod was intentionally delayed since Apple believed it's “not ready yet”.

Well, the wait is over: the Apple HomePod will officially start shipping on the 9th of February, while pre-orders open this Friday, the 26th of January.

What is the HomePod?



It's a 7-inch-tall cylinder covered with a stylish-looking, seamless mesh fabric. On the top, we have a small display to show us when Siri is listening, and touch controls to interact with HomePod without talking. A single woofer and seven tweeters deliver fine-tuned, balanced sound for every situation. We'll get to that in a bit.

The HomePod is a smart device and, as such, is powered by the Apple A8 chip. In other words — the same processor that hummed under the hoods of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

What does it do?


The Apple HomePod is meant to be a home entertainment system with a twist. Its marketed as a multimedia device fist and foremost, probably because Apple can't hope that Siri would beat the Google Assistant on the Google home. Its primary function is syncing with your Apple Music library and delivering your favorite music as soon as you say “Hey, Siri”. It can also very easily pair with your iPhone — just hold up your handset next to a fresh HomePod and the pairing is done, much like the AirPods' super-quick process.

Once paired with your handset and iCloud, the HomePod can send texts, set reminders, check the latest headlines, play your podcasts, and make phone calls through your paired iPhone. If you have HomeKit accessories throughout your house, HomePod will also be able to control those — lights, air conditioning, and so on. You can also enter macro commands to do multiple things at a time — for example, saying “Hey Siri, I'm home” can turn on the lights and dial the thermostat higher.

Another great news is that you won't be tied to iMessage. SiriKit for HomePod is an SDK, which will be made available to 3rd party developers. So, if you'd be able to say “Text Jeff over WhatsApp”, if your friend doesn't happen to use iMessage. The only thing that's left is for developers to pick it up and implement it with their own messengers.

Why 8 speakers?


As we said, the HomePod sports a custom-made woofer and 7 “beam-forming” tweeters, which are nested in a circle around the pod's. The device is spatially-aware, meaning it will be able to detect surfaces next to it and fine-tune the volume response of all speakers in order to “fill up” the room as best as it can. You may recall that the Google Home Max touted a similar feature, but it only has 4 speakers — 2 woofers and 2 tweeters — which are pointed in the same direction.

How will Siri hear you if you are blasting music? Well, an array of 6 microphones are in place and will be able to hear you from across the room, even with music on, Apple says. We'll have to test that out...



Multi-room and stereo support


If you happen to have too much money on your hands, you can grab a couple of HomePods and spread them throughout the house. With multi-room audio support, you can ask Siri to either play different songs in the different rooms or play the same tune across your house, in sync so it doesn't feel weird when the speakers overlap. Putting two HomePods in the same room together will allow you to activate stereo mode for a louder, more spacious oomph.

Availability


The HomePod will be shipping on February 9th, with pre-orders kicking off this Friday, the 26th of January. It'll be available in Space Gray and White, priced at $349. That's $50 less than the retail price of Google's Home Max!
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