The HomePod is Apple’s high-end Siri-powered smart speaker, offering a premium audio experience and the ability to control smart home devices, respond to text messages and more, but it has had a troubled few years trying to compete with the cheaper, smarter options from Google and Amazon. While it seemed Apple had been reinvigorated by the release of the HomePod Mini in 2020, the company confirmed in March 2021 that the standard HomePod is set to be discontinued. Does that mean Apple has stopped working on the HomePod 2 behind closed doors? It's entirely possible.
With the future of the HomePod looking uncertain, here’s all you need to know about the possibility of a HomePod 2 right now.
When will the HomePod 2 be released?
While Apple tends to update its main product lines – Watch, iPhone, iPad and Mac – on a yearly basis, the same can’t be said for its audio collection. The AirPods, AirPods Pro and HomePod are on a totally different update schedule, with Apple waiting 2.5 years between the release of the first- and second-generation AirPods, and with the HomePod being a first-generation product, we don’t yet know how long Apple plans to wait between releases - especially given the discontinuation of the original in March 2021.
At this point, it seems unlikely that Apple will reveal a HomePod 2 in 2021 - it wasn't on a recent list of devices that leaker Jon Prosser suggests are ready to ship - but we're still clinging onto the hope of an eventual release albeit likely in an entirely new form factor.
How much will the HomePod 2 cost?
The HomePod originally cost £329/$349 when it was released, and many criticised it for its high price tag. So much so, in fact, that Apple permanently slashed the price of the HomePod to £279/$299 back in 2019, and it’s often discounted at UK retailers like John Lewis, bringing it down to as little as £199. That’s a much more palatable price for a smart speaker, and more in-line with the likes of the various Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant offerings.
It’s also encouraging to see the HomePod Mini come in at such a competitive price at £99/$99. It’s still expensive compared to Amazon’s Echo Dot, but it does show that Apple is willing to compromise on pricing for its HomePod products. It's possible that we could see a cheaper standard HomePod 2 to replace the ultra-high-end original, hopefully in the region of competing smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Show.
Will the HomePod look any different?
This is a little tougher to predict, especially given the lack of leaks to date.
That being said, the HomePod Mini is essentially a smaller, rounder version of the HomePod with the same material and general design language, and as such, we can’t really see Apple completely redesigning the second-generation HomePod. It’d just look out of place alongside the original and the Mini, and if Apple truly wants the HomePod 2 to be a staple of the smart home, it’ll want to encourage using as many as possible in the home.
Besides, there aren’t any real complaints about the design of the HomePod. It might be a bit on the heavy side at 2.5kg, but the seamless mesh fabric and backlit touch surface look sleek, and it doesn’t look out of place no matter where it lives.
What features will the new HomePod offer?
With the discontinuation of the HomePod now official, this has turned into more of a wishlist than a series of leaks, but still.
At the heart of the HomePod, you’ll find the now-ageing A8 chipset. For reference, that’s the same chipset as what shipped with the iPhone 6 back in 2015. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it’s apparent that the A8 is more than capable of handling the current suite of smart features on offer from Apple’s smart speaker, but in order to expand the offering, Apple will need to up the processing power on offer.
It’s hard to say what it’ll feature considering a smart speaker doesn’t need the same level as an iPhone, but if Apple wants to apply the same machine learning technology present in the iPhone and iPad, it’ll have to be an A12 Bionic – or a custom version for the HomePod – at the very least.
Alongside an upgraded chipset is likely to be Apple’s U1 chipset, enabling Ultra Wide Band (UWB) functionality. Apple has been slowly integrating the U1 into its product line, now found in the iPhone and Apple Watch, and it’s rumoured to be coming to the next Apple TV and Apple’s AirTags too. The tech makes it easier for Apple devices to communicate, facilitating faster data transfer as well as more accurate location sharing. Take the HomePod Mini for example; using the U1 chip, it can detect when an iPhone is nearby and change audio output to the speaker, and vice-versa.
The problem (and by problem I mean non-problem) with the HomePod is that new features and functionality are often pushed out by OTA update, negating the need for a hardware refresh to introduce fun new things to do.
Since the initial launch of the HomePod, it has gained new functionality including AirPlay 2 support, Apple Intercom and even the ability to recognise up to six different members of the home by the sound of their voices, and it’s likely more features are planned for the future. As revealed at the October 2020 event, Apple is planning to widen music streaming support to include Pandora and Amazon Music in the coming months, and we can only hope that more will be added in future, even if the speaker has been discontinued.