An Apple soundbar could be on the way, merging Apple TV with the impressive audio processing and voice control of the HomePod. It's purely a rumour at this stage, but it sounds like it could be a match made in heaven. Here's everything we know about the Apple soundbar so far...
Back in March we reported that the next HomePod could feature a built-in camera. We followed that up with news that the new Apple TV video streamer could feature a built-in speaker. Lately, the general consensus has been Apple is working on a product designed to take over your living room – possibly a soundbar with streaming smarts.
Of course, Cupertino has yet to confirm whether or not an Apple soundbar (or 'iBar', as some have dubbed it) is on the cards but speculation is growing. So what's the truth? Could Apple be about to bring its streaming magic to a soundbar? How much would the Apple soundbar cost and would it support Dolby Atmos?
Here are our thoughts on the possible Apple soundbar, and all the rumours so far...
Apple soundbar: release date
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.
Given the recent demise of the HomePod, an Apple soundbar could be just what Cupertino needs if its to steal a match on Amazon and Google. Viewed through that lens, there's no time to lose. If Apple is working on its first-ever soundbar, we'd expect to see it land in 2021 or 2022.
Apple soundbar: price
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 £179 ($179, AU$249) for the 32GB version, while the HomePod smart speaker debuted at £319 ($349, AU$499) when it launched in 2018. If the Apple soundbar merges those two technologies, it could hit the shelves at around £550 ($550, AU$800).
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 is said to be working on a $3000 mixed reality headset, so don't expect the Apple soundbar to go for a song, especially if it wants to beat the best soundbars on the market.
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 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. 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.
Could the rumoured Apple soundbar be the answer to that conundrum? On paper, combining the might of Apple TV, the company's high-end streaming box, with the Dolby Vision-capable Apple TV+ streaming service and the HomePod speaker, with its 360-degree sound, looks to be a winning formula.
Spec-wise, the new Apple TV (due late 2021) is strongly rumoured to support a 120Hz frame rate and next-generation Siri voice controls, so we'd expect any Apple soundbar to match that. AirPlay 2, Apple's proprietary wireless audio and video streaming technology, sounds 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 an iPhone. 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.
As for power, there's every chance the Apple soundbar could be powered by the rumoured A14X Bionic chipset said to feature in the new 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 current 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 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 in the coming years. If so, an Apple soundbar with streaming smarts could be the perfect way to distribute tomorrow's Apple Originals.
Apple soundbar: sound
Back in 2018 we crowned the HomePod "the best-sounding smart speaker" and awarded it five stars, praising its ability to "deliver the essence of everything you play... from Bach to Band of Horses, Bonobo to Bob Marley". The party didn't last long, though, and HomePad was canned in 2020, reportedly due to poor sales.
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 12, 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. But 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.
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 buy, there's no shortage of demand for the soundbars with built-in streaming platforms. Over to you, Apple...
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