To say that the announcement of the 2nd generation HomePod came as a surprise is an understatement. While there were rumors that a new model was in the works, the timing was completely unexpected: it arrived on a Wednesday morning in mid-January after the launch of the M2 Mac mini and MacBook Pro.
But what’s even stranger than time is the HomePod itself. There is little indication on the HomePod website that this is a new model, and Apple seems to have put a lot of effort into designing a new HomePod that looks and sounds just like the old HomePod. Early reviewers predictably say the new HomePod “remains true to the original” with “beautiful and deep” sound that still offers “expressiveness and power,” especially when paired with the second one.
The last point is key. While music is certainly the main selling point of the 2nd generation model, Apple is also positioning the HomePod as part of your “cinematic home theater experience,” a feature that wasn’t originally available when the first model launched. Indeed, early reports say that a pair of HomePods “excellently increases the height in terms of positioning sounds according to the action on the screen” and provides “good clarity, nice bass and surround sound.”
Of course, sound quality has never been a HomePod issue. As with iPods and AirPods, music was the HomePod’s main focus, and it did it very well. While it has been criticized by some audiophiles for being too bass-heavy, the HomePod has been widely regarded as one of the best standalone smart speakers for its price. It was limited to Apple Music (or AirPlay from an Apple device) and couldn’t just function as a Bluetooth speaker, but it certainly sounded good! We all know how that ended – Apple discontinued the HomePod in March 2021 after an uncharacteristic price cut, presumably due to declining sales.
So, if the first one didn’t survive as an expensive and limited music speaker, why didn’t Apple rethink the new HomePod as a soundbar? Not only would it grab attention and revive interest in the speaker, but a radical redesign would also instantly make the HomePod a player in the home theater space. Along with Apple TV+ and Apple TV 4K, Apple will have a true double whammy that no other speaker maker or streaming service can match.
The pieces are all there. As a stereo pair, HomePod has two 4-inch high-throw woofers and 10 horn tweeters with individual neodymium amp magnets, more than enough to compete with 11 Class-D Sonos Arc amps, three corner silk dome tweeters and eight speakers. inch to 3 inch elliptical woofers. In fact, Apple already wants you to buy two HomePod speakers with an Apple TV 4K “to enjoy Dolby Atmos sound for a complete cinematic home theater experience.” What if that included using a pair of HomePod mini for rear speakers and full surround sound?
The only thing it really needs is a longer, flatter design and a pair of HDMI ports. The HomePod soundbar can still be a music player, home hub, and always-on Siri speaker, but with a new focus on home theater. Maybe a dialogue mode that enhances spoken language, or a movie mode that leans more towards action or explosions.
Apple is already recommending you buy two HomePods for $299 each. So even if the HomePod soundbar costs $799 and an additional $199 for two HomePod minis, it will still be cheaper than the Sonos Arc system with One’s dual rear speakers. And the design will be much more comfortable for home theater use than two rather tall speakers that can interfere with your TV viewing.
I’m not familiar with original HomePod sales figures or pre-orders for a new one, but I doubt anyone with an original HomePod is in a hurry to buy a 2nd generation model. Aside from the temperature sensor and the ability to tell you when it hears an alarm, the press releases announcing the speakers could be the same – Apple doesn’t even mention the original HomePod anywhere on the site as a point of comparison.
Instead of a sequel that is truly based on the original, Apple’s second attempt at making a high-end, high-end speaker for the home feels like a repeat. And I’m afraid it will have the same ending as the first one.