Today, Apple lifted the lid on its HomePod 2 speaker and while there are a few big upgrades that look great, I can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment looking at the device.
To be clear this isn’t because I think it’ll be bad. Look at our reviews of the first-generation HomePod and cheaper HomePod Mini and you’ll clearly see our reviewers approve of Apple’s smart speakers.
Both the original HomePod and Mini got perfect 5/5 scores, with both, at the time, delivering the best mix of audio quality and smart functionality we’d seen on a smart speaker.
On top of that, despite the fact the Apple HomePod 2 looks identical to its predecessor, featuring a similar coffee table and bookshelf-friendly cylindrical chassis with a woven finish grill - which is apparently built of “100 per cent" recycled materials - it has some big upgrades under the hood.
First off, it’s meant to sound better, featuring a new speaker setup that combines a single 4-inch woofer paired with five tweeters, which, according to Apple, “delivers rich, deep bass, natural mid-range, and clear, detailed highs. Given the praise we gave of the older HomePods, this should be a great-sounding speaker if these claims ring true.
Then there’s its clever beamforming and Spatial audio powers. This should let the speaker use its new A7 chipset to intelligently scan its surroundings and optimise its audio settings to deliver immersive sound, regardless of its placement.
And finally, and for me most excitingly, there’s support for the Matter smart home standard. This is big as it means, unlike the first generation HomePod, the new model should play with tech from other smart home manufacturers like Google, Samsung and Amazon - though this is more from a networking and control perspective.
The reason I’m upset is that, like the first HomePod, the new HomePod 2 is launching with nearly zero competition.
Let’s take stock of the market. The only direct rival we’ve tested recently is the Amazon Echo Studio, which has a similar 360 audio design. But as you’ll see in our review, it’s not a perfect product. Though it’s cheaper, we gave it 4 out of 5 stars, with it failing to deliver on two areas the older HomePods excelled at: wonderfully precise low-end performance and excellent audio.
Google’s not really got an equivalent rival and the only other semi-similar product we’ve reviewed is the Sonos One. Though in my mind this isn’t a like-for-like comparison, with the Sonos being more of a multi-room speaker and, potentially reliable accompaniment to the HomePod 2, thanks to its advanced smart features.
This is a problem for me because, as we’ve seen time and time before, a lack of competition inevitably leads to stagnation and a lack of innovation in the market, with companies like Apple having no real incentive to innovate. This was what happened with the first generation HomePod, which was sold well beyond its shelf life into 2020, when it was finally discontinued.
In the current landscape, I can see the same happening with the HomePod 2, with Apple choosing to leave it on the market and not upgrade with any new features or tech until it absolutely has to.
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Sadly 3 out of 4 of my original HomePods died prematurely and due to their complexity nobody could repair them, although a guy in the US is able to repair some faults now.
I now refuse to buy Apple hardware (iPhone being the one exception) these days, the HomePod experience has soured my experience of their hardware.