Huge HomePod Heads Back to Market

The Daily Observation Deck Feature

The big HomePod returns, OS updates hit next week, and Apple announces offerings for Black History Month.

Apple Re-Introduces Full-Size HomePod

A bigger surprise than this week’s Mac mini introduction was the reintroduction Wednesday of the full-sized HomePod. While a return of the form factor had been rumored for this year, I don’t know that anyone outside of Apple expected it this soon. Discontinued a couple of years ago, TechCrunch says the device is back, and apparently better than before. 

It’s hard to know how much better it is sound-wise without actually hearing it, so let me talk to you like I work at Circuit City or The Wiz or some other electronics store that doesn’t exist anymore. According to Apple’s HomePod press release:

A custom-engineered high-excursion woofer, powerful motor that drives the diaphragm a remarkable 20mm, built-in bass-EQ mic, and beamforming array of five tweeters around the base all work together to achieve a powerful acoustic experience.

Tweeter. That’s another electronics store that doesn’t exist anymore. 

Updating an Existing Technology to Make HomePod Even Better

The TechCrunch piece says the new/old unit features “Apple’s own Spatial Audio technology for immersive sound reproduction.” TechCrunch goes on to say:

The HomePod includes room-sensing technology to adapt its sound profile depending on its surroundings, and it can also be stereo-paired with another HomePod for improved sound.

A new HomePod, not an old one. We’ll come back to that. 

Driving HomePod is a better processor. TechCrunch says the new unit is powered by Apple’s S7, “the same processor found in the Apple Watch Series 7.” Apple’s last big HomePod was powered by the A8. That processor last put in work powering iPad mini 4, iPhone 6, and the last of the iPod touch models.

While Apple’s press release makes a big deal of the smart-speaker’s seamless integration into Apple’s ecosystem, it should also play nicely with other smart-devices, provided they’re Matter compatible. The Matter smart-home standard launched last fall. According to Apple, “HomePod connects to and controls Matter-enabled accessories,” and can serve as a “home hub, giving users access when away from home.”

HomePod 2 and HomePod Can’t Harmonize

I said earlier that the old HomePod and new HomePod can’t form a stereo pair. If you’ve got an old HomePod and a HomePod mini, you may not be surprised since those two can’t form a stereo pair either. A piece from Cult of Mac says “pairs can only be made with two [HomePods] of the same model.” 

Of course not being able to pair a new HomePod with an old HomePod may be confusing because they look practically the same. There’s more going on behind the mesh, though. According to the Cult:

The new model has fewer tweeters, for one. It runs on an Apple S7 processor, not the A8 of its predecessor. And it only supports Wi-Fi 802.11n, not the newer 802.11ac that is in the older HomePod.

Whole-home audio still works for all of them, by the way. Cult of Mac says the different insides “only affect stereo pairing. Any combination of Apple’s smart speakers can be used for whole-house audio, no matter the model.”

So they can sing together. They just can’t harmonize.

Shut Up and Take My Money?

Less vibrant than the HomePod mini, the second HomePod comes in two colors — White and Midnight. White is white, while Midnight is described by TechCrunch as “a very dark blue that basically resembles black in most viewing conditions.” At least that’s their assumption based on other of Apple’s Midnight offerings. 

Up for pre-order now, the new HomePod will run buyers $299. They should be blaring in homes and Apple Store on Friday, Feb. 3.

Beta Versions of Apple OS Updates Seeded to Developers

There is more new news about the HomePod ecosystem, but we’re gonna put a pin in that for a moment. That’s because it is tied to OS news, and there’s a decent amount of that today as well. 

AppleInsider says Apple on Wednesday made Release Candidates of iOS 16.3, iPadOS 16.3, tvOS 16.3, and watchOS 9.3 available to developers. Separately, an AppleInsider piece says same goes for macOS Venture 13.2. Likely as it seems, I’m not sure we can say for certain that the Mac update will be out next week (though with new Macs due next week, it seems almost certain). You can bank on the rest being out next week though — because Apple said so. 

A piece from 9to5Mac had Apple announcing initiatives for Black History Month — details of which we’ll hit in a bit. Among Apple’s offerings are a new wallpaper for iPhone and a new face for Apple Watch. They are said to require iOS 16.3 and watchOS 9.3, respectively. Both the watch face and the wallpaper are said by Apple to be available “next week.” 

Imminent Updates to Strengthen Privacy and Security

So then — what’s coming soon? 9to5Mac lists some of the upcoming iOS features, including the aforementioned “Unity” watch face and wallpaper to celebrate Black History Month. Additionally, new features are said by the site to include:

  • Changes to how “Call with Hold” for Emergency SOS works: iPhone will now wait until you release the buttons to call emergency services, even after the countdown.

But wait! There’s more! A separate report from 9to5Mac says iOS 16.3 should make Apple’s iCloud Advanced Data Protection available to “users worldwide.” The site actually says “all users worldwide,” though I can’t help wondering whether China is included. 

In case you’ve forgotten, 9to5Mac reminds readers that iCloud Advanced Data Protection is “an opt-in feature to get end-to-end encryption for almost all data stored in iCloud, including messages, photos, and device backups.”

By default, Apple can decrypt your iCloud data on its servers. Super cool if you trust Apple and you’re worried about accidentally locking yourself out. “But for users wanting ultimate data protection,” 9to5Mac says:

…iCloud Advanced Data Protection allows users to encrypt their iCloud data with their own device passcode so that Apple doesn’t have a key. This means that even if Apple’s servers were hacked, the intruders would not be able to read your personal data without knowing your passcode.

Of course, this also means Apple can’t help with recovery. Then again, governments can’t lean on Apple for access to a significant portion of your iCloud data. Well… they can lean… but math is math and leaning won’t work.

New for HomePods, New and Old

HomePod software updates release in lockstep with iOS updates. This brings us back to the more new news for HomePod I mentioned a moment ago. Yet another piece from 9to5Mac has had a look at release notes for HomePod software 16.3. Among the features listed:

  • The ambient sounds have been remastered. They can also be added to scenes, automations, and alarms in the Home app
  • Find My on HomePod will let you ask for a friend or family member’s location, provided they’ve shared that information
  • You can set recurring Home automations with your voice
  • Siri will play a confirmation tone to let users know “when smart home requests are completed” that might not be immediately apparent
  • Both of the full-size HomePods are being tuned for better sounding spoken content such as podcasts
  • Original HomePod will get more granular volume controls

Also — the update will turn on HomePod mini’s secret sensor. 

Waking HomePod mini’s Temperature Sensor

When HomePod mini came out, Apple said nothing about a temperature sensor in the device. In fact, a piece from AppleInsider says it took a few teardowns before anyone found it. There it was — a temperature sensor inside HomePod mini, unmentioned by Apple and apparently doing nothing. 

That is changing. Not only does Apple list a temperature sensor in the tech-specs for the new HomePod, the company also lists it for HomePod mini. Yes — the HomePod mini you may have sitting on your desk or shelf right now. “With the feature, and presumably a Matter system,” AppleInsider figures users will be able to create automations with HomeKit based on a room’s temperature, such as closing the blinds or making adjustments to fans.”

Apple Ships Firmware Update for AirPods Line

Ahead of next week’s OS updates, word of one of Apple’s most frustrating offerings. 9to5Mac says Apple started trickling out firmware updates for AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max on Wednesday. No release notes as of the site’s writing and no way to prompt the update. Just know that — at some point, Apple is slipping something into your ear without telling you what or why. 

Apple Announces Offerings for Black History Month

And finally today, as mentioned earlier, Apple did announce a few initiatives Wednesday meant to mark Black History Month. 9to5Mac says the announcement includes a mixture of product, art, activities, and content. 

Starting with the product, the company has a new Unity watchband for 2023. The Black Unity Sport Loop has the word “Unity” woven into the fabric. Done in an abstract, understated way, the band weaves in the colors red, green, and black, a nod to the Pan-African flag. Available to order now, the piece says Apple Stores will see limited availability starting Jan. 24. The Black Unity Sport Loop will run buyers $49. 

A New Watch Face, Wallpaper and Activity Challenge

As alluded to earlier, Apple does have a special watch face and iPhone wallpaper on the way. The new Black Unity Wallpaper requires an iPhone 8 or later running iOS 16.3, while the associated Apple Watch face requires an Apple Watch Series 4 or later running watchOS 9.3. The fine print on Apple’s Black History Month press release says both the wallpaper and watch face will be out next week, which is how we know we’re getting the OS updates next week.

On the activities side, I told you yesterday about the Apple Watch Unity Activity Challenge. It requires participants to close their Move ring for any seven days in a row in the month of February. Additionally, the company says:

Apple Fitness+ will share new workouts featuring playlists celebrating Black artists, as well as a new meditation dedicated to Black History Month… 

On January 30, Fitness+ will release a new episode of Time to Walk (…) featuring legendary singer Patti LaBelle.

Additionally, Apple Maps will feature a series of Guides created by The Smithsonian. Apple says the Guides “spotlight key landmarks in the struggle for civil rights over the past century…”

And on the content front, 9to5Mac says the Cupertino-company will feature content dedicated to Black History Month on the App Store, as well as its destinations for Books, Music, Podcasts, and News. And neat stuff to watch — no subscription required. According to Apple’s press release:

Viewers can visit the Apple TV app to explore series and films curated by Dr. Jelani Cobb (…) The theme of this year’s collections is “The Matter of Black Lives,” focusing on stories that illustrate three specific pillars: “Freedom in Black,” “Love in Spite Of,” and “The Mosaic.”

Today on The Mac Observer’s Daily Observations Podcast

TMO writer Nick deCourville joins me to talk over the return of the big HomePod and changes coming to rest of the line. Plus — the story of an Apple Watch, a workout, and 15 cops. That’s all today on the Daily Observations Podcast from The Mac Observer.

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