An Apple soundbar could be on the way, merging Apple TV with the impressive audio processing and voice control of the HomePod. It's only a rumour at this stage, but it sounds like a match made in heaven. Here's everything we know about the Apple soundbar so far...
Cupertino has yet to confirm if an Apple soundbar ('iBar'?) is on the cards but speculation does seem to be growing. In recent years, there's been talk of the next HomePod featuring a built-in camera, and of an Apple TV streaming box with a built-in speaker.
Nobody knows for certain, but it seems like Apple could be working on a product designed to take over your living room – possibly a soundbar with streaming smarts.
If Apple is working to bring its streaming magic to a soundbar, that would be huge news. But how much would the Apple soundbar cost, and would it support Dolby Atmos? Here's our thoughts on the Apple soundbar rumours...
Apple soundbar: release date rumours
While market-leaders Amazon and Google enthusiastically added their smart home technology to TVs, speakers, lightbulbs, plugs and clocks, Apple waited patiently until 2018 to launch its first smart speaker (the now discontinued HomePod).
That cautious approach ensured a high-quality device and spawned last year's brilliant HomePod Mini, but there's little doubt Apple would love to be front and centre of the connected home.
In an attempt to play catch-up, Apple merged its HomePod and Apple TV engineering groups in 2020. The thinking seemed to be that by unifying its audio and streaming departments Apple would give birth to its most ambitious smart home device yet.
Last year, Apple has re-hired former audio engineer Alfrooz Family to improve HomePod software and as a result, we saw the surprise return of the full-size HomePod earlier this year.
The HomePod 2 once again proved Apple's audio prowess, with excellent spatial audio and overall sound quality. While it was still fairly restricted in the sense that if you're not already an Apple user, then good luck setting this HomePod up, it did enough to impress us even during a time when Sonos was releasing the competitive Era 100 and Era 300.
It also reignited our desire for an Apple soundbar, as the Spatial Audio system works a dream with an Apple TV 4K, so much so that one of our team switched out his Sonos Arc with a pair of HomePod 2s.
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Apple soundbar: price news
There are various theories as to the configuration of the rumoured Apple soundbar. Some say it will be a voice-controlled soundbar, others think it will be a soundbar with both voice controls and some sort of built-in display and camera (via Bloomberg).
Perhaps there could be various models? As for the price, the combined cost of a HomePod and Apple TV 4K could give us a good indication of what the base model Apple soundbar might go for...
The current Apple TV 4K set-top box starts at £149 / $130 / AU$219 for the 64GB version, while the latest HomePod smart speaker costs £299 / $299 / AU$479 when it launched in 2018. If the Apple soundbar merges those two technologies, it could hit the shelves at around the £500 / $500 / AU$800 mark, or so we predict.
Of course, it's purely speculation at this point but there's no doubt Apple is known for designing premium products at premium prices. Indeed, Cupertino has just revealed the pricey Vision Pro headset, so a fresh take on the soundbar idea at a premium price could well be a possibility.
Apple soundbar: design
In our review of the HomePod Mini, we praised its "seamless fabric mesh" and "classy and alluring" light panel. We also took a shine to its sleek styling, which eschews physical buttons in favour of Siri voice controls and AirPlay 2. Could the design of the Apple soundbar take its lead from the HomePod Mini? We'd have no complaints if that was the case.
Of course, it will be interesting to see if the Apple soundbar is a Roku Streambar-sized device, or something bigger like the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) or even Sonos Arc. Perhaps there could be family of Apple soundbars?
Given the popularity of the baseball-sized HomePod Mini (£99, $99, AU$149) there's every chance Apple could go for a compact design akin to the Sonos Ray. Then again, the appetite for ever-increasing TV screen sizes could mean we see a super-sized Apple soundbar, loaded with drivers for a more cinematic sound.
As yet, there are no leaked images of the Apple soundbar and no clues as to its size, but we'll update you as and when news breaks.
Apple soundbar: features
Apple tried valiantly to make the 2018 HomePod work better with the Apple TV set-top box, even adding a 'Home Theater' mode in 2020 but the plan never quite came together. Since then, Apple has come back with a reinvigorated fight to make HomePod and Apple TV work together and it's fair to say it has succeeded. Extending this winning formula to a product purely designed for home cinema audio could be the ticket for Apple to expand further into that market.
Spec-wise, the new Apple TV 4K (2022) comes with HDMI 2.1 which allows the device to support 4K HDR at 120Hz, so we'd expect any Apple soundbar to match that. AirPlay 2, Apple's proprietary wireless audio and video streaming technology, and Siri voice controls sound like a given too.
If this report is on the money, the Apple soundbar could boast a camera. It would certainly make FaceTiming from the sofa a lot less hassle than holding up your iPhone 14. There's also talk of the camera being used for watch parties, allowing users to bring their friends into their living room (virtually) and dissect event TV in real time. This of course is now more plausible than ever, as the latest tvOS update added FaceTime to the Apple TV.
As for power, there's every chance the Apple soundbar could be powered by the rumoured A14X Bionic chipset found in the latest Apple TV and new iPad Pro. The nippy little chunk of silicon is said to be faster than a current MacBook Pro and could deliver 'games console-like performance' according to analysts.
The Apple TV supports both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound (more on that below) so we'd expect to see the Apple soundbar tote both technologies. A Siri-enabled remote control seems likely, too.
Last but not least, it's worth noting that the Apple TV+ streaming service is apparently looking to ramp up production to Netflix-like levels. If so, an Apple soundbar with streaming smarts could be the perfect way to distribute tomorrow's Apple Originals.
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Apple soundbar: sound
If the Apple soundbar performs anything like the HomePod 2 then we will be most pleased. We praised its natural, energetic and spacious sound in our review, so a bigger, better version is sure to impress.
The good news? Apple could be set to pour the HomePod's impressive sonic abilities into the Apple soundbar. Given Apple's knack for extracting spacious audio from almost any device, whether it's a pair of AirPods Max headphones or an iPhone, we'd expect above-average performance from the Apple soundbar.
As for immersive, 3D object-based audio, the current Apple TV 4K set-top box already supports Dolby Atmos so it's seems likely that the Apple soundbar will boast upward-firing drivers and thus be Atmos-capable.
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Apple soundbar: early verdict
The Apple soundbar is purely a rumour at this point – and a gossamer-thin one at that. Reputable Apple watchers such as Ming-Chi Kuo haven't dropped any hints lately, which means that Apple is wary of leaks, or the Apple soundbar is still at the prototype stage (if it exists at all). That said, the more we think about it, the more it seems likely Apple already has all of the pieces in place, and could easily merge them together into a seriously good soundbar that could potentially pair well with the HomePod 2 smart speaker. The mere existence of a revived HomePod has sparked a resurgence of hope here, especially considering how well the new smark speaker was received.
A one-box solution that adds Apple TV and high-quality sound to an existing TV would certainly be convenient. And if the success of the Roku Streambar is anything to go by, there's no shortage of demand for the soundbars with built-in streaming platforms. Over to you, Apple...
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