It’s been a busy week for Apple. On Tuesday we got new chips, Mac minis and MacBook Pros, and on Wednesday we brought the return of the full-sized HomePod, with a similar design and features to the original model, as well as the same $299 price tag, about two years after it was discontinued.
And when you dig into it, it gets even weirder. The new HomePod is actually very different from the original model, but in subtle and confusing ways that won’t be so noticeable to anyone who buys one. Here are five facts about the new HomePod that have us scratching our heads:
The design is not exactly the same
At first glance (and second and third), the 2nd generation HomePod appears to be identical to the original model. It has the same round body, mesh exterior and screen, but there are slight differences. First, it is 4mm shorter and 200 grams lighter. The screen at the top is bigger and now takes up the whole area. The original model’s “seamless mesh fabric” is now “acoustically transparent mesh fabric,” and Midnight has replaced Space Gray. That won’t make a visual difference unless you’re comparing a new and an old side-by-side, and it seems strange that Apple has bothered to redesign the HomePod in such small ways.
You cannot create a stereo pair with a 1st generation HomePod
One of the HomePod’s best features is its ability to create a stereo pair that “plays each channel in perfect harmony, creating a wider, more immersive soundstage than traditional stereo speakers.” It’s not a new feature, but there’s a catch: you can’t pair a new HomePod with an old one. For a stereo pair to work, you need two of the same HomePods: a 1st Gen with a 1st Gen; mini with a mini; 2nd generation with a 2nd generation. It makes sense since the two have different specs, but it sure would have been nice for Apple to come up with a way to make the two play nicely together.
It uses an Apple Watch chip
The original HomePod used Apple’s A8 processor, introduced in the iPhone 6 a few years earlier, as “the brains behind the advanced audio innovations.” When the HomePod mini arrived a few years later, Apple used the S5 chip from an Apple Watch Series 5 to “get big sound out of such a compact design.” The 2nd generation HomePod also uses an Apple Watch chip, the S7 processor of the Apple Watch Series 7, “to provide even more advanced computer audio.” That’s all well and good, but it’s hard not to think that an A12 or A13 would be a little future-proofed.
It still has an integrated power cable
One of the biggest shortcomings of the original HomePod was its integrated power cable, especially since people naturally tried to unplug it and sometimes ended up ruining their speakers. It’s possible Apple changed the connector to avoid that, but based on photos, the HomePod still has the same permanently attached power cable on the back of the device. A move to a magnetic connector like the 24-inch iMac would have been a nice improvement.
It supports slower wifi
It’s strange that the new HomePod still has Bluetooth 5 instead of 5.3 (as found on new Macs and iPhones), but in fact it has slower Wi-Fi than the original model. According to the tech specs, the first HomePod supported 802.11ac, better known as Wi-Fi 5, while the newer HomePod uses Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n). Perhaps it’s too much to ask for Wi-Fi 6E if the new iPhones don’t even support it, but we’re surprised to see the new HomePod use a Wi-Fi standard as old as the iPhone 4.
The audio specs seem inferior
Here’s the weirdest part: based on the audio specs, the new HomePod isn’t quite as good as the original model. While it certainly “delivers next-level acoustics,” as Apple claims, a quick comparison of the tech specs shows two fewer horn-loaded tweeters (five vs. seven) and microphones (four vs. six). Of course, not all speakers and microphones are created equal and audio processing is very important. It’s quite possible that Apple will get the same or better sound with fewer speakers and microphones.