HomePods 2: Apple Patents Detail an Audacious Roadmap for the Smart Speaker

Apple's relatively unpopular speaker is getting ready to clap back. 

Apple has ambitious plans for its Siri-enabled, smart speaker. And it’ll need them, too: Currently, the HomePod serves as a snazzy audio blaster with limited voice assistant capabilities, but it has not exactly taken off. Amazon’s Echos and Google’s smart speakers together command some 97 percent of the sales, according to eMarketer. The remaining 3 percent is also divvied up between HomePods a handful of other rivals, including Sonos.

The Cupertino-based company recently laid out three ideas for how to revitalize the device in recent patent filing. Indeed, because the ideas are so audacious, it looks like they’re concepts that would be rolled out over a series of successive upgrades and releases. The concepts were first reported by Patently Apple and, if pulled of in time, would definitely be able to make HomePods a contender.

Just how audacious? Well, assuming all the outlined features were brought to life in the same device, users would be able to interact with the speaker as if they were Tom Cruise in Minority Report using gesture controls. The HomePod could also then deliver visual feedback using the smart fabric in its textile-based, flexible screen. Of course, said smart fabric would be formed into a kind of mesh coating that will be used to give Siri the power to sense your emotions. As we said, audacious.

Fabric layer with openings in which light-emitting devices have been formed.

Patently Apple

Hand Gesture Controls

As it stands, users have to either tap a screen or say, “Hey Siri” to control the HomePod. But it could one day be retrofitted with proximity sensors to detect hand gestures to toggle the volume or check the weather.

In order to bump up the tunes or change tracks on the HomePod, users have to interrupt their playlist with a voice command or use their phone. A hand gesture interface could let owners of the smart speaker raise the volume from across the room without the need of a screen, say, or snap their fingers to pause a song.

A number of tech companies are exploring capabilities like these for future products, so it’s no surprise that Apple is doing the same. Google was recently granted permission by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to further test its motion-sensing radar technology, Project Soli. Plus, LG teased it would reveal a gesture-centric device dubbed the “LG Premiere” next month during the 2019 Mobile World Developer’s Conference in Barcelona.

Embedded HomePod sensors could one day be used to detect hand gestures.

Patently Apple

Smart Fabric Exterior

The circular screen now found at the top of the HomePod could be replaced with a smart fabric display that covers the entire speaker. Apple has filed multiple patents regarding textile materials intertwined with OLED components to create screens that can go on the sleeve of a coat or, in the case, encase a speaker.

Patently Apple notes that the mesh shell that currently comes with the HomePod could be replaced with a material that has, “device light-emitting diodes that are configured to display alphanumeric characters through the fabric; additional light-emitting diodes to provide visual feedback.”

So, if users raise the volume with hand gestures, symbols would appear all around the speaker confirming that the interaction was detected.

The mysterious image that accompanied Apple's past "Smart Fabric" patent filing.

Patently Apple

Smarter Siri Features

Finally, Apple is planning on making Siri conscious of users’ emotions. With the help of voice analyzing software, the virtual assistant could act on how it believes a person is feeling. So if you come home and tell Siri you got a new job, for example, it would play celebratory music. On the other hand, if you’re going through a break-up it would try to soothe you by blasting some Whitney Houston.

“If vocal stress is detected in captured voice information, HomePod may make adjustments to content being presented to the user,” explains Patently Apple.

These suggestions build on a previous Apple patent describing a Siri upgrade that could allow the A.I. to recognize different users’ voices using keywords, certain interactions, and even biometric information. It’s unclear whether Apple wants to mold Siri to assist the lives of individual users or use this tech to instead make it a general-purpose voice assistant capable of assisting multiple people at once.

The tech that's already found inside of the HomePod.


How to Get a HomePod

It’s possible we could see these upgrades and others come to HomePod over the next few years, but in the meantime the first-generation smart speaker is available now for $349

For now, those are all upgrades to look forward to in the coming years. The current-generation HomePod is available for $349 at the Apple Store.

If you’re looking for a deal, there are a number of used or refurbished options available on eBay for close to a $100 less than the retail price.

Is HomePods Worth It?

The HomePod is by far the priciest of its counterparts. Apple has marketed it like a Sonos quality, high-end speaker with Amazon Echo capabilities. Similar products, like Google Home devices, won’t cost you more than $200 and some even go for under $100. But the HomePod can be especially tempting to diehard Apple users.

Just like how a Macbook works seamlessly with an iPhone, the HomePod will complement other Apple devices you have and uses Apple Music as its default music service. So if you’re already using multiple products from the Cupertino-based company and you’re in the market for a smart speaker this wouldn’t be a bad option.

If you already own a HomePod make sure it’s up-to-date by either manually accepting software updates or setting them up to download automatically.

How to Sound Check HomePod?

Sometimes the HomePod will play various songs at different sound levels. Luckily, there’s a built in setting in the Home app that lets you make the speaker’s volume consistent.

Open the app, press and hold the HomePod icon, tap Details, and switch on Sound Check. This way you won’t be startled by a song unexpectedly playing louder than the last track on your playlist.

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