The HomePod won’t be reaching homes for a while. Apple’s $349 smart speaker is set to use the Siri A.I. voice assistant to play music and carry out certain tasks — like an Amazon Echo, but with a focus on high-end audio. Although announced in June 2017 with a release date of December that year, Apple pushed it back further to a mysterious “early 2018.”
“We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers,” an Apple rep said at the time.
That may be changing soon. A Tuesday report in the Taipei Times suggested that Invectec, one of the two assemblers of the device, had started shipping the speaker with an initial one million units. Together with Hon Hai, the pair expect to ship 10 to 12 million units in this year.
When it launches, HomePod could provide a surprisingly rich sound. It has a seven beam-forming tweeter array with individual drivers, precision acoustic horns, coupled with an Apple-designed woofer and automatic bass equalizer. In other words, it has a lot of audio equipment driving the sound, and the speaker will bounce sounds off the walls to effectively shape the output to match the surroundings.
Apple has quietly laid the groundwork for HomePod to hit the ground running. iOS 11.2.5, currently in the beta stage, introduced a “give me the news” command for Siri on January 3. The feature initially shares recaps from the Washington Post, with the option to switch to Fox News, NPR or CNN if desired. The company rolled out support to all iOS devices using Siri on January 17, while also rolling out United Kingdom and Australia support. The feature is crucial to helping HomePod take on Amazon Echo, Google Home and others for dominance of the voice-activated living room computer market.
When HomePod finally launches, it will have been in development for around six years. In that time, it’s been canceled, restarted, reshaped and reinvisioned repeatedly. Whether Apple can attract people away from the Echo, which has grown to dominate the space over the past four years since its launch, remains to be seen.