CMA Awards 2018

Apple Sets HomePod Release Date, Unveils Core Features of $349 Speaker

Courtesy of Apple
Apple HomePod

Now that the sting of missing out on holiday sales has worn off, Apple is finally ready to capitalize on the smart speaker craze with a Feb. 9 release of its highly anticipated HomePod device. Consumers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia can pre-order the speaker, which runs $349 and will pair with Siri to deliver "stunning audio quality wherever it's placed," boasts the company, on Friday, Jan. 26.

Powered by Apple's A8 chip and standing at 7 inches tall, the HomePod does a lot that should please audiophiles: it uses software for "real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, echo cancellation" and has spatial awareness to sense where it is in a room so that it can self-adjust its settings. It has a nice woofer for bass and seven "beam-forming tweeters that provide pure high frequency acoustics with directional control." (Look at HomePod's innards below.)

Naturally, the speaker is wired to work seamlessly with Apple Music, the company's music streaming service with 30 million subscribers. Users will be able to ask Siri to play songs, albums and playlists, as well as more advanced or even nonspecific queries like "Hey Siri, play something else." Music lovers who want a HomePod but don't want to part with their Spotify/Pandora/Tidal/etc accounts can still play their music through the speaker but it will be more like a pricey-but-stellar-sounding bluetooth experience. That means Siri will probably clam up if you ask her to "play Rap Caviar really loud."

Siri will be more open to helping you with sending emails, reminders and alarms, checking the weather and getting a recap of news, much like her frenemies Alexa (Echo, $99.99) and Google Assistant (Google Home, $129).

Later this year, Apple will send out a software update that will enable multi-room customization if a user has more than one HomePod around the house.

In a press release, Apple's senior vp of worldwide marketing Philip Schiller called the HomePod a "magical new music experience" from the Cuppertino-based company, adding that it has a "simple, beautiful design that is so much fun to use. We're so excited for people to get HomePod into their homes, apartments and businesses to hear it for themselves. We think they will be blown away by the audio quality. The team has worked to give Siri a deeper knowledge of music so that you can ask to play virtually anything from your personal favorites to the latest chart-topping releases, simply by saying 'Hey Siri.'"