Apple’s HomePod has the potential to blow away the competition when it launches in December. The $349 pod costs more than the $179 Amazon Echo and $129 Google Home, but Apple is pushing the speaker’s high-end audio quality that could lure consumers away. A new patent published Thursday reveals how Apple may use advanced artificial intelligence to boost the already-impressive speaker hardware even further, making music sound crystal clear no matter the setting.
The speaker packs a powerful punch in a cylinder measuring just 6.8 inches high by 5.6 inches wide. The company lists a dizzying array of high-end audio additions, with a high-excursion woofer complemented by seven horn-loaded tweeters, all of which come with their own custom amplifiers. On the listening side of things, a six-microphone array helps the speaker isolate voices and better understand user requests. The Siri assistant may not be as clever as some of its rivals, with Apple launching a limited version to begin with, but it’s on the music side that the artificial intelligence really shines.
Titled “Loudspeaker equalizer,” the patent describes a system that uses microphones to determine how best to shape the sound coming out of the speaker. The input is fed to a computational unit that determines radiation impedance, a measure of how vibrating solids in the nearby area affect the sound output. In the case of the HomePod, there’s an onboard Apple A8 processor to make these calculations, the same one that’s found in the iPhone 6. It then uses that data to alter the equalizer.
The system uses a combination of microphones both inside and outside of the system itself to shape the sound. These calculations can be completed constantly, meaning the HomePod may always try and recalibrate itself based on its ever-changing environment. If a user changes the room enough to affect the sound output, the system described in the patent may already reshape its sound to accomodate.
Apple’s patent does not mention the HomePod by name, but the patent sounds very similar to the system it described on stage when it presented the speaker at last month’s Worldwide Developers Conference. During that show, reporters were invited to listen to the speaker backstage. Mashable described the sound as “rich,” with sharp highs and deep lows, while CNet described it as “bolder and more vivid than Sonos Play:3.”
Beyond room shaping, Apple also claimed that multiple HomePod speakers working together could shape their sound to complement each other rather than interfere. The two features working together mean the high-end audio setup on display is put to best use, and it could mean the HomePod comes out favorite in real-world testing compared to the Echo and Home.