Apple Releases New Firmware for HomePod

Alongside the iOS 11.2.5 beta that was seeded to developers this afternoon, Apple released new firmware for the HomePod.

The new firmware is not available through the Developer portal like a standard beta software update, but it will be downloadable by testers who have a HomePod. The update is also listed on third-party software sites, making it available for download by the public.


HomePod devices are currently in the hands of Apple employees who are testing the smart speaker to iron out bugs before it becomes available for purchase in early 2018.

Apple previously released publicly available HomePod firmware in July, unwittingly leaking many secrets about the iPhone X. The HomePod firmware referenced the unreleased iPhone and confirmed its design and several features like Face ID facial recognition.

Additional HomePod firmware was released in October, but that update, like this one, is not as notable because there are no unreleased iOS devices coming in the immediate future and thus there's nothing to spoil. It's possible additional HomePod features could be discovered via the firmware update, however.

HomePod is Apple's Siri-based smart speaker that focuses heavily on high-quality sound. It incorporates a 7 tweeter array, an Apple-designed 4-inch upward-facing woofer, and an A8 chip to power features like spatial awareness.

Apple originally planned to release the HomePod in December, but in November, the HomePod launch was delayed until early 2018.

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Apple’s Early Version of HomePod Stood Three Feet Tall and Packed Dozens of Speakers

While the HomePod was only unveiled five months ago, a team of Apple audio engineers developed several speaker prototypes as a side project over the past five years or so, according to Bloomberg.

HomePod was originally a side project cooked up about five years ago by a group of Mac audio engineers, who wanted to create a speaker that sounded better than the ones sold by the likes of Bose, JBL, and Harman Kardon. Side projects aren't uncommon at Apple, where employees are encouraged to follow their muse so long as their day jobs come first.
The report claims one of the prototypes stood three feet tall, roughly five times as tall as the current HomePod, and was equipped with dozens of speakers. Another supposedly looked like a flat panel with a mesh screen on the front.

The side project was reportedly canceled and revived several times. It wasn't until 2014 that development of the speaker began to ramp up within Apple's accessories division, which also worked on the wireless AirPods.

Apple's focus was on creating a speaker with premium sound quality through the use of beam-forming speaker technology. The report claims Apple tested many variations of the speaker in specially designed audio chambers.

That same year, the report adds that Apple engineers were "blindsided" when Amazon launched its Echo speaker integrated with its voice-activated personal assistant Alexa, which is considered a hit with customers.
The Apple engineers jokingly accused one another of leaking details of their project to Amazon, then bought Echos so they could take them apart and see how they were put together. They quickly deemed the Echo’s sound quality inferior and got back to work building a better speaker.
Despite the Echo launching, Apple has maintained its focus on the HomePod being a high-quality speaker, which is exactly how Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller positioned the product at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
The Siri team was told that the HomePod was about music and quality sound, one of the people said. Yes, the speaker would be voice-activated but it wouldn't be positioned as a personal assistant.
As of this year, the report claims the HomePod was just one of four or five areas that Apple's Siri team was working on, given the company apparently sees it as more of an accessory than a core product like the iPhone.

Given the HomePod will be mostly limited to streaming Apple Music, controlling HomeKit accessories, and sending messages through an iPhone, the report claims Apple will be "playing catchup" with Echo-like devices.
Apple could still eventually add features to the HomePod. These might include its own app ecosystem and support for competing music services. Even so, until that happens, Apple will still be playing catchup in a category invented by a company better known for e-commerce than hardware.
Apple will be even further behind after it delayed the HomePod's release until early 2018, after originally promising it would launch in December. The delay means the $349 speaker won't be ready in time for the holiday shopping season, which could lead customers to purchase an Echo or Google Home instead.

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Apple Says HomePod is Delayed Until Early 2018

Apple today announced it has delayed the release of the HomePod until early 2018. The speaker was originally set to launch in December.

In a statement provided to CNBC and several other media outlets, Apple said it needs "a little more time" before the HomePod is ready.
We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers. We'll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.
Apple unveiled the HomePod at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and said it would launch in December in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.

HomePod is a Siri-enabled smart speaker designed for the home. It's considered to be Apple's answer to Amazon's Echo, but with more of a focus on music and sound quality.

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Future HomePod Models Could Include Face ID Technology

A new rumor out of Apple's supply chain over the weekend suggests future iterations of the HomePod could come with 3D-sensing cameras supporting Face ID, similar to the front-facing technology on the iPhone X. Specifically, Inventec Appliances president David Ho mentioned recently that the company sees a trend towards both facial and image recognition technology being incorporated into smart speakers, without specifying which speakers in particular (via Nikkei).

Ho made the comment following Inventec's latest earnings conference, and analysts listening predict that he was likely referring to "the next generation of Apple's HomePod." Inventec Appliances is currently the sole supplier of both Apple's AirPods and HomePod, but also makes Xiaomi smartphones, Fitbit devices, and Sonos speakers, among others. Given the company's ties to Apple, analyst Jeff Pu predicts Ho's comments could suggest a Face ID-enabled HomePod in 2019.

"We see trends that engineers are designing smart speakers that will not only come with voice recognition but also incorporate features such as facial and image recognition," President David Ho told reporters after the company's earnings conference.

Jeff Pu, an analyst at Yuanta Investment Consulting, said Apple could roll out HomePods with 3D-sensing cameras in 2019.
Ho said that facial recognition features "are set to make people's lives more convenient and to make the product easier to use." He further clarified his comments, however, citing hesitancy about whether smart speakers "with more AI features" would become popular.

HomePod is set to release in December, although Apple has yet to confirm a specific release date for the new device. The upcoming smart speaker was first revealed during WWDC in June, where Apple explained it would be a music-focused speaker with high quality sound, deep Siri integration, and spatial recognition for providing the best sound in any space. Even before it was officially announced, rumors of the device's production were connected to Inventec Appliances.

Over a year before its unveiling at WWDC 2017, Apple's "Siri Speaker" was rumored to include facial recognition of some kind as another leg up on competing Echo products from Amazon. At the time, sources with knowledge of Apple's project said the device would be "self aware" and able to bring up different user profiles as people walk into a room, "such as the music and lighting they like." The HomePod launching next month will lack any such features and instead be controlled mainly through voice-enabled user prompts with Siri.

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Trio of Apple Suppliers Report Bumper Revenues for October

Three Apple suppliers shared revenue reports today, providing a glimpse at how their contributions to Apple's latest product line-up affected their income in the month of October. Unsurprisingly, suppliers for Apple's flagship iPhone X, Pegatron and Wistron, both had good news to share with investors.

Pegatron reported consolidated revenues of $5.52 billion for October 2017, representing a 8.34 percent increase on month and 10.14 percent increase on year. Wistron had consolidated revenues of US$2.98 billion, a 12.37 percent increase on month and a 36.81 percent increase on year.


Elsewhere, Taiwan-based AirPods manufacturer Inventec saw revenues rise to $1.43 billion for October, representing a modest 0.45 percent increase on month but a more substantial 16.54 percent increase on year.

Apple switched to an all-glass casing for this year's entire iPhone lineup in order to support wireless charging, with Pegatron benefitting as the exclusive supplier of the wireless charger. Meanwhile, in its push to manufacture products locally in India, Apple chose Wistron to be the first original equipment manufacturer for 2017 iPhones in the country.

Inventec's more staggered rise in sales mirrors Apple's gradual achievement of supply/demand balance for AirPods. The popular earphones were introduced in September 2016, but prior to August, had been in extremely short supply, with a typical wait time of six weeks from order to delivery. By the end of September however, shipping estimates improved to 3 to 5 business days.

Looking ahead, Foxconn, Pegatron and Wistron have their work cut out to help Apple achieve supply/demand balance for the iPhone X, with online orders currently averaging a 3 to 4 week wait globally. Wistron's India operations also look set to expand beyond its current iPhone manufacturing plant in Bangalore, with recent reports that the OEM plans to build additional facilities in the region, while Inventec has reportedly landed large orders to manufacture Apple's Siri-based HomePod speaker, which is set to debut next month.

Related Roundups: HomePod, iPhone X
Tag: AirPods
Buyer's Guide: iPhone X (Buy Now)

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Apple Asks Developers to Start Optimizing Apps for HomePod Using SiriKit in iOS 11.2

iOS 11.2, released this morning, introduces SiriKit support for the HomePod, according to Apple. With SiriKit for HomePod now available, Apple is asking developers to make sure SiriKit-compatible apps are optimized for HomePod ahead of the device's release.

SiriKit is designed to allow iOS and watchOS apps to work with Siri, so users can complete tasks with Siri voice commands. SiriKit is available for a wide range of apps on those two platforms, but its availability is slightly more limited when it comes to HomePod.


Third-party apps that use SiriKit Messaging, Lists, and Notes are compatible with the HomePod. Siri will recognize voice requests given to the HomePod, with those requests carried out on a linked iOS device. So, for example, users can ask HomePod to send a message to a friend, add an item to a list, or create a new note. Sample HomePod requests:

- Send a text to Eric using WhatsApp
- In WeChat, tell Eric I'll be late
- Add chocolate and bananas to my list in Things
- Create a note that says "hello" in Evernote

Developers can test the voice-only experience of their apps using Siri through headphones connected to an iOS device with the iOS 11.2 beta.

Apple plans to release the HomePod this December, but a specific launch date for the speaker has not yet been provided. When it becomes available, the HomePod will cost $349.

Related Roundups: iOS 11, HomePod
Tag: Siri

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Apple Releases New Firmware for HomePod Ahead of December Launch

Apple this morning released new firmware for the HomePod ahead of its December launch. The new firmware isn't available through the Developer portal, but it will be downloadable by testers who have a HomePod and it is listed on third-party iOS software sites, making it available for download by the public.

HomePod devices are currently in the hands of Apple employees who are testing the smart speaker to iron out bugs before it becomes available for purchase later this year.


Apple previously released publicly available HomePod firmware in July, unwittingly leaking many secrets about the iPhone X. The HomePod firmware referenced the unreleased iPhone and confirmed its design and several features like Face ID facial recognition.

The update also highlighted details about the HomePod like its startup process and internal features that include display resolution and RAM.

This time around, there are no unreleased iOS devices coming in the immediate future so the new HomePod firmware is unlikely to be as exciting as the first, but it could potentially unveil new information about the HomePod itself as developers dig into the firmware code.

HomePod is Apple's Siri-based smart speaker that focuses heavily on high-quality sound. It incorporates a 7 tweeter array, an Apple-designed 4-inch upward-facing woofer, and an A8 chip to power features like spatial awareness.

When it launches this December, HomePod will be priced at $349.

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Google is Prepping a Tabletop Smart Screen Device to Rival Amazon’s Echo Show

Google is working on a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will go up against Amazon's Echo Show, according to sources who spoke to TechCrunch.

The Google device is internally codenamed "Manhattan" and will have a screen size similar to the 7-inch Echo Show, said two sources, one of whom reportedly received information directly from a Google employee. The device is said to run a version of Android, meaning it could be capable of running third-party apps, with Netflix being mooted as a possibility.

Amazon's Echo Show device.

Both sources claim the device will offer access to Google Assistant, Google Photos, and YouTube – which goes some ways to explaining why the latter video service was unceremoniously pulled from Amazon's Echo Show on Tuesday.

Google's device will also reportedly work as a smart hub for controlling other connected smart home gadgets and appliances, similar to Amazon's new Echo Plus speaker unveiled earlier this week.

According to TechCrunch's sources, the original target launch date for the Manhattan device was mid-2018, but Google is apparently under intense pressure to get the product out the door before the end of this year, given that the Echo Show is already on the market. Google has a hardware event scheduled for October 4, but it's unclear if the device will make an appearance.

Other rumors floating about suggest the tech giant is readying an upmarket version of its Google Home smart speaker to rival Apple's upcoming $350 HomePod. Known internally as "Google Home Max", the "premium" device is said to feature stereo speakers housed in a high-quality design.

Thanks to leaks, we already know that Google will announce a mini version of its Google Home speaker at its hardware event, alongside new Pixel smartphones and a rebranded Google Pixelbook. But there's also talk of $159 Google-branded Bluetooth earbuds on the way with Google Assistant built-in.

Whatever the exact line-up of products the company drops on October 4, stay tuned to MacRumors for a full summary immediately following the event next week.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tags: Google, Amazon Echo

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Amazon Music Mobile App Updated With Alexa Integration

Amazon has updated its Amazon Music iOS app so that its Alexa virtual assistant can now be used to play songs and discover new artists. After installing the update, users in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Austria can ask Alexa to play music by genre, decade, mood, tempo, activity, and even lyrics.

The feature is activated from the app interface using a new Alexa button, which has been designed to feel like a natural extension to asking Alexa smart speakers around the home to play music, while aiding users who aren't using two hands to interact with their phone.


Alexa is capable of responding to commands like "play the song of the day" or "play music for studying", adding an extra level of discoverability to Amazon Music when using the iOS app. As noted by The Verge, music companies are also reportedly investigating whether Alexa can be leveraged to make Amazon's music services more competitive, with song metadata like tagging and categorization being seen as potential entry points for more sophisticated voice-activated music features.

Set to launch in December, Apple's $350 HomePod smart speaker uses Siri to enable similar voice-activated commands, which Apple hopes users will come to view as an intelligent "virtual DJ" that can learn and adapt to their musical tastes.

The Amazon Music app is a free download for iPhone and iPad available from the App Store. [Direct Link]

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tag: Amazon Music Unlimited

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Samsung Confirms Work on Speaker to Compete With Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo

Samsung is indeed working on a smart speaker that will be introduced in the near future, Samsung mobile president DJ Koh told CNBC this morning.

"Maybe soon we will announce it. I am already working on it," he said in an interview following the Galaxy Note 8 launch.

Koh went on to say he wants to "provide a fruitful user experience at home with Samsung devices." "I want to be moving quite heavily on it," he added.

Apple's HomePod

Koh declined to provide additional details about the company's upcoming smart speaker, but a previous report suggests it will be built around Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant. The speaker has been in development for more than a year, but has been hampered by problems with Bixby.

Samsung initially had to delay Bixby's introduction in the English language version of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ due to performance issues, with the functionality being added to the devices just a month ago in in July.

There's no specific launch date for the Samsung speaker, but with Apple planning to debut its own HomePod in December, Samsung's competing device is unlikely to be too far behind. In July, Samsung's speaker was said to still be in early development, with several features and specifications yet to be hammered out.

Apple's HomePod focuses heavily on speaker quality as a way to distinguish itself from competitors like the Amazon Echo. It features a 7 tweeter array, an Apple-designed 4-inch upward-facing woofer, and an A8 chip that powers robust spatial awareness functionality.

It also includes touch controls for navigation, six microphones, built-in Apple Music support, and Siri integration.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tag: Samsung

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