Good bye HomePod
Unfortunately it’s been announced that Apple is discontinuing the original HomePod. This is sad but I must say I’m also not too surprised.
I bought into the HomePod fairly early on and I was happy with it. A lone HomePod is reasonably nice and it sounds really nice. Then I went full in and got a second one and it’s amazing.
The amazing sound of the HomePod alone is a reason to be sad it’s going away. I just don’t believe there are many good choices in speakers that have the combination of the HomePod sound, size and ease of use without having to buy into some ecosystem that requires yet more software on top of your standard music apps & airplay.
The reason it isn’t a surprise is, despite the fact when it works, it’s amazing is the fact that actually the stereo pair is kind of a requirement to really enjoy it and that’s really expensive. Being expensive in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing but your product must work all the time and must not be locked into any system or at least offer “legacy” audio connectivity.
Why the HomePod is too expensive can be summed up in a few ways.
It can’t be turned off
There is no switch and at first there wasn’t even a way to restart it. I realise there are a lot of electric devices you do simply just unplug from the wall but it’s never been a case that it’s been consider sensible to unplug a computer from the wall to turn it off and that’s what you do with the HomePod.
I suspect this is why it seems to get bricked so easily. I know this, I’ve had my original HomePod “die” in a way where it could start up but just not work. Its replacement died harder and just wouldn’t light up. I can’t see any reason for either one to have failed as they did. But I can’t help but wonder if that if I could have plugged into it and flashed it with new software then would that have fixed it?
I’ve noticed the HomePod Mini’s plug is USB-C and has an option to restore the HomePod Mini by connecting to a Mac. This should have came to the big HomePod in a revision.
The stereo pair is unstable
When the stereo pair works it’s great but not surprising it doesn’t always work. Often one doesn’t start straight way with the other or it drops out and may or may not come back at a later point. This is kind of frustrating especially because it is a very noticeable downgrade in audio quality.
I’ve noticed that Apple’s approach on trying to hide away error messages or even unstable states means that often when audio streaming fails anywhere they often take the approach of just stop playing and never try again. It feels like this ideology made its way into the HomePod.
There’s no way to hook it up to a TV or other devices
It’s hard to get people to buy into a device when it can only work on its own, Airplay devices or an Apple TV. If it worked reliably with these restrictions I think I could accept it but many simply will not.
A thin column of standard audio inputs on the back above the power coord would have made a huge difference and built up trust. It also mean they could be used in some form after Apple stops supporting them.
It would solve the above section about instability simply by allowing the two to be connected by wires and then maybe only wireless streaming to one or even falling back to a cable into an Apple TV, your actual TV, etc. Because the iPod Hifi has these sort of connectors it will almost certainly out live the HomePod.
So those three things are the major problems with the HomePod. There’s some other issues such as its limited release across a handful of countries. Had they solve these three problems, I think it could have made it more likely it would take off and solved the other issues as in they’d be happier to roll it out to other countries.
My hope is despite being discontinued this isn’t the end of a good high quality HomePod. Instead due to the fact it’s actually quite a complex beast and we’re in the middle of a pandemic lockdown across the globe maybe resources just make it impossible to get a HomePod 2 out soon and push came to shove so they’ve just had to discontinue the HomePod rather than simply announce a replacement.
Then in a year or two we’ll get a new HomePod and hopefully one that solves all the problems I’ve mentioned. If they do that I think they could have a real winner on their hands. If not, they can at least live regardless.