X

Here's what we don't know about Apple's HomePod (yet)

Apple debuted its HomePod speaker on Monday, but we still have some questions.

meganwollertonportraits0719-23a
meganwollertonportraits0719-23a
Megan Wollerton Former Senior Writer/Editor
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
4 min read
apple-wwdc-2017-homepod-speaker-3968
James Martin/CNET
sirihomepod
Watch this: What we don't know about the Apple HomePod

Apple unveiled the $349 HomePod at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday. Although Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller addressed music features, HomePod's Siri functions and its ability to control devices on Apple's HomeKit smart home service during his keynote presentation, later on at the show, Apple only provided a live demo of the speaker's audio quality. Aside from the obvious comparisons to Sonos, as well as the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, we don't actually know much about Apple's pricey Siri speaker. 

Here are the questions we still have about the HomePod, which is slated to hit stores in the US, UK and Australia this December (£270/AU$465, converted). Note: Apple did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

    1. Will it support Bluetooth?

    Apple referenced the HomePod's compatibility with Apple Music and AirPlay 2 at WWDC, but what about streaming from other devices via Bluetooth? The Echo can do it, and Google announced upcoming Bluetooth support in May. Not only would Bluetooth integration make the HomePod accessible to non-Apple-Music iPhone customers, it would also theoretically allow audio playing from iOS or Android devices.

    2. Can the HomePod control door locks?

    Apple displayed a list of Siri commands for controlling HomeKit smart home devices, but smart lock commands were conspicuously missing (see the screenshot below). 

    Currently you can lock and unlock the August Smart Lock with Siri on your phone, and with Alexa speakers. You do need to set a 4-digit PIN code to unlock the door, though. Google Home supports locking and asking for the status of the lock; an unlocking feature is supposed to be released later this year. 

    To prevent random people from controlling your August lock from a stolen iPhone, your iOS device requires a passcode before it will let you issue a Siri unlock command. How will this work with the HomePod speaker? Will the HomePod follow suit with Alexa and require a spoken PIN code to unlock a door? Could it use voice ID to authenticate a particular user?

    August's founder and CEO took to Twitter after the WWDC keynote and said, "HomeKit feature built-in: Bluetooth to Wi-Fi bridge for the August Smart Lock." That suggests you will no longer need the August Connect accessory to convert the HomeKit smart lock to Wi-Fi remote control. Johnson's tweet is not an explicit confirmation of Siri-based lock control via HomePod, and has since been deleted, but it does at least confirm that the HomePod has more smart home capabilities than what Apple mentioned on stage.

    Johnson added on Twitter today: "You should be able to make all the same HomeKit commands that you can with an Apple TV." Does that mean the HomePod will act as a gateway to remote Siri access like the Apple TV currently does? We're not sure, but it definitely sounds possible. 

    screen-shot-2017-06-05-at-3-21-03-pm
    Enlarge Image
    screen-shot-2017-06-05-at-3-21-03-pm

    Where's smart lock control?

    Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

    3. What's up with the messaging feature?

    The HomePod "is a great way to send messages," according to Apple's official press release. What does that mean?! Will I be able to say "Hey Siri, send Ashlee Clark Thompson a text message?" If so, that would be a really neat feature that isn't currently available on Alexa devices or on the Google Home. Will it be limited to iMessages? We just don't know yet. 

    Say hello to Apple's HomePod smart speaker

    See all photos

    4. How about calling?

    The Amazon Echo supports Echo-to-Echo calling; the Google Home will soon offer a similar feature that extends to mobile numbers and landlines. If you can send messages from the HomePod, you might as well be able to call people, too. Still, Apple made no mention of a calling feature during the WWDC keynote. 

    5. How does 'spatial awareness' work?

    Apple says: "Automatic room-sensing technology allows HomePod to quickly learn its position in a room, whether it's in a corner, on a table or in a bookshelf, and within seconds, is perfectly optimized to deliver an immersive music listening experience wherever it is placed"

    The speaker has six microphones onboard and presumably Apple uses these to calibrate the system. In comparison many competitors use a smartphone app or separate microphones to set it up. However, if you move the speaker to another location what happens? Do you need to set this up through the app, or does it trigger a (loud) automatic calibration routine?

    6. Will the Apple TV work with HomePod?

    Chromecast customers can currently turn on their favorite Netflix shows with Google Home. There are a lot of potentially cool integrations between Apple TV and HomePod, too, although none were mentioned during the keynote address. Apple did announce that Amazon Prime is coming to Apple TV later this year, so maybe we'll soon be able to say, "Hey, Siri, play the Americans." A gal can hope. 

    As always, we'll provide updates as we learn more. In the meantime, check out this handy comparison chart of the the three main voice control speakers:

    Apple HomePod vs. Google Home vs. Amazon Echo


    Apple HomePodGoogle HomeAmazon Echo
    Price $349$129$180
    Responds to voice commands YesYesYes
    Always listening YesYesYes
    Wake word Hey SiriOK Google, or Hey GoogleAlexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer
    Music streaming options Apple Music (other options unknown)Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneInAmazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others
    Smart home partnerships Will likely work with Apple's established HomeKit partners: Ecobee, Honeywell, Chamberlain, D-Link, August, Kwikset, Philips Hue, Lutron, iDevices, and moreNest, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, IFTTT and othersNest, Ecobee, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, Big Ass Fans, IFTTT, Control4, Crestron, other devices via skills
    Customizable appearance NoYesNo
    Output to stereo system UnknownYes, via ChromecastYes, via Bluetooth and the Echo Dot
    Synced audio playback to multiple devices Probably -- Apple announced synced multiroom audio as a feature of iOS 11Yes, to any Google Cast deviceNo
    Personal assistant highlights News briefings, language translation, weather, traffic info, set reminders, play podcasts, convert unitsSearch Google, get a personalized daily briefing, check traffic, check your calendar, make a shopping list, check flight status, track a packageAdd items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check flight status, track a package
    Other features Send messages and we'll inevitably find out lots more in the months aheadCast to your TV with Chromecast, launch and control YouTube or Netflix via ChromecastOrder a pizza, play a game, arrange an Uber pickup. Echo has an ever-growing list of thousands of skills and counting