Apple brought its HomePod smart speaker to India last month — over two years after its debut in the US, UK, and Australia in February 2018. The HomePod is designed as Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo and Google Nest range of smart speakers. However, just like many other Apple devices, it is not meant for everyone and is targeted at a niche audience. The smart speaker by Apple is based around the company’s Siri voice assistant, which lets you use voice commands to perform certain tasks and play music. It features an array of microphones to detect your voice from any part of a room. There are also multiple speakers to deliver a room-filling audio experience.
The Apple HomePod officially carries a price tag of Rs. 19,900 in India. This is lower than the $299 (roughly Rs. 22,600) price currently applicable in the US, though it’s often discounted now. The India price of the HomePod puts it right up against the Amazon Echo Studio, which was launched last year at Rs. 22,999. So how good is the HomePod when it comes to the smart speaker experience? Also, is it an accessory worth buying for Apple fans in India — if not for all audiophiles? Read on to get answers to all these and many other questions you might have about the HomePod.
Apple HomePod design and specifications
Before getting deeper into the experience, let’s take a look at the design and specifications of the Apple HomePod. The device is as beautifully crafted as any other Apple product and can subtly blend in with any part of your home. Its cylindrical shape and mesh fabric covering make it look like an attractive piece of hardware even when not in use. Moreover, the speaker is 172mm tall and 142mm wide, which lets you place it on table, shelf, or TV stand in your living room or bedroom.
The HomePod weighs 2.5kg which is lighter than the 3.86kg Echo Studio. Of course, you won’t be carrying the HomePod around much after finding a suitable spot to place it in. The base has a rubbery finish that helps keep the speaker securely in place.
As for specifications, the HomePod uses Apple’s A8 processor, developed for the iPhone 6, to run everything including Siri responses. There’s an array of seven tweeters, each with its own amplifier, and a high-excursion woofer with a 20mm diaphragm. There are also six microphones placed such that they can pick up your voice commands from any direction. A touch-sensitive panel on the top of the speaker is used to control everything. The HomePod uses Wi-Fi 802.1ac and Bluetooth 5 for connectivity.
We’ve been testing the Apple HomePod for over two weeks to understand its key pros and cons from the perspective of an Indian buyer, so here are the answers to some common questions.
Are there any differences between the Apple HomePod launched in India and what’s available in the US?
Apple hasn’t made any major changes to the HomePod sold in India compared to what was initially launched in the US. However, if you’re extremely observant, you will notice that the India version doesn’t have a braided power cable. When we checked with Apple, the company could not confirm a reason for this.
How long does it take to set up the HomePod?
Setup only takes a couple of minutes. All you need is to plug your HomePod into a power socket and then bring a compatible iPhone or iPad close to it. The HomePod will recognise it and copy your Apple ID details and preferences over automatically. You’ll get on-screen prompts that you need to tap one-by-one to complete the setup process. It’s even easier than setting up a smart TV, and is similar to how you get started with any recent new Apple product. The setup process for the HomePod is far better than what you’ll get with an Amazon Echo or Google Nest device.
Do I need to make any adjustments to optimise the audio experience on the HomePod?
No, you don’t need to do anything after setting up your HomePod. It uses its microphones to automatically sense the dimensions of your room and its relative position, and will use this to deliver you an optimal sound. Apple calls this “Spatial Awareness.” We were able to enjoy a room-filling sound experience in a 15×10-foot room, with soothing lows and mids as well as crisp highs. However, you don’t get an adjustable equaliser to tweak the sound profile as per your preferences. You can manually adjust EQ settings in the Apple Music app or whatever other music app or source device that you use with the HomePod, though.
Do I need to go close to the HomePod for it to understand my commands?
Apple has provided powerful enough microphones that don’t require you to come very close to the HomePod to speak with Siri or control your music. While Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant on our Amazon Echo and Google Nest devices would sometimes fail to understand what we were saying when standing in different parts of our room, due to ambient noise and music that was playing from a TV in the same room, we found that the HomePod was able to catch most of our commands without any noticeable delay.
Will the HomePod understand my accent?
Yes, Siri has been trained to understand what people say in simple English, even with an Indian accent. We asked multiple people of different age groups to try using Siri, and the results were acceptable for all of them.
Does the HomePod work only with Apple devices or can it be connected to an Android phone as well?
You need an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to set up your HomePod. The list of compatible models includes the iPhone 5s and later, all iPad Pros, iPad (5th generation), iPad Air and later, iPad mini 2 and later, and iPod touch (6th generation). The device that you’re connecting with your HomePod also needs to run at least iOS 13.3.1. Once connected and configured, you can play audio tracks from your smart TV or MacBook via AirPlay. There’s no official support for Android users, though. You cannot use Bluetooth to pair laptops, smartphones, or other source devices, and there are no physical inputs.
Is an Apple Music subscription needed to play music on the HomePod?
The HomePod requires an Apple Music subscription for you to be able to use its full music functionality. This means that you can’t ask Siri to stream your favourite music tracks if you don’t have Apple Music. At least that’s now available at Rs. 99 a month, and Apple says its collection includes over 60 million songs and tens of thousands of playlists. You can also use AirPlay to stream music stored in your local Apple Music library, or from apps such as Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, or YouTube Music on a compatible device. You can also ask Siri on your HomePod to play music stored in your local library.
Can I play songs from a third-party app such as Amazon Prime Music, Gaana, Spotify, or YouTube Music on the HomePod?
Yes, you can play songs from any third-party app, but only via AirPlay. You can’t ask Siri to play your favourite music from a third-party app. This means that if you want to use voice commands to play a particular track, you will have to use Apple Music. This is unlike how you can play music directly from third-party apps including Amazon Prime Music, Gaana, JioSaavn, Spotify, and YouTube Music on an Amazon Echo or Google Nest speaker. Even Siri on the iPhone lets you play music from third-party apps.
Does Siri on the HomePod understand Hindi?
No, Siri doesn’t understand any Indic language including Hindi yet. With the iOS 13.3.1 update in late January, Apple introduced support for Indian English Siri voices on the HomePod. There is no word on when or whether Hindi support will be added. You should pick an Amazon Echo or a Google Nest if you would prefer to use Hindi commands. However, the HomePod does currently support Cantonese, French, German, Mandarin, and Spanish.
Can I ask the HomePod to play a folk or regional song?
The HomePod, through its Siri integration and Apple Music support, is capable of correctly recognising the names of many popular Indian albums, songs, and singers. We succeeded in asking Siri on the HomePod to play several Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, and Punjabi songs. It was also able to understand singer names such as Bir Singh, Dijit Dosanjh, Nimrat Khaira, Shreya Ghoshal, SP Balasubrahmanyam, Tarsem Jassar, and PB Sreenivas. Similarly, we were successful when asking it to play tracks including Awara Hoon, Baapu Tere Karke, Ivan Yaara Magano, and Phire Elam Dure Giye.
Does the HomePod allow controlling music with voice commands?
Yes, you can ask your HomePod to go forwards or backwards, and pause or play a song using your voice commands. You can also adjust the volume by telling Siri on the HomePod what you want.
Can I control music manually as well?
The touch panel on the HomePod lets you control your music manually. There are volume buttons that appear when you’re playing a song or speaking with someone on a phone call. You can tap the panel to pause or play a track, double-tap to go to the next track, and triple-tap to go to the previous track.
Can the HomePod be used as a smart voice assistant, and can it answer everyday household questions?
Yes, you can ask Siri on your HomePod about the current weather, nearby places, or any general knowledge questions that you might have. It uses the Internet to provide answers to most of your questions instantly.
Can I ask the HomePod to set an alarm or a reminder?
Yes, you can ask Siri on the HomePod to set an alarm or timer. You can also set a reminder for a specific task after enabling the Personal Requests option using the Home app on your iPhone or iPad.
Does the HomePod support contextual replies?
Siri does support contextual replies, which means you can ask follow-up questions to some extent based on the answers to a previous question. The feature is currently quite limited in scope, though.
Does the HomePod allow me to send or receive messages?
You can certainly ask Siri on your HomePod to send a message or read what you’ve received. To send a new message, all you need to do is say, “Hey Siri, send a message to [contact name].” You can then speak your message. After that, Siri will ask you if you’re ready to send it to your contact. The HomePod also lets you hear your messages read out to you. However, it doesn’t provide any alerts when you receive a new message. In addition to text messages, Siri on the HomePod also works with third-party apps including Skype for iPhone and WhatsApp.
Can I make phone calls using the HomePod?
Yes, you can ask Siri on your HomePod to make a phone call for you. You can also answer your calls directly on the HomePod, and you can check for missed calls on your phone. Further, you can ask Siri to play your most recent voicemail. It is, however, important to highlight that the HomePod doesn’t make any sound when a phone call comes in, just like you don’t get notified of any new messages unless you already have your phone on you. Also, you won’t be able to use an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) that requires keypad input from your side.
Does the HomePod provide notification alerts?
No, just like with messages and phone calls, the HomePod doesn’t support iPhone system audio. This means that if you get an email or message on an app such as Slack or WhatsApp on your iPhone, you won’t get its notification alert from your HomePod.
Can the HomePod be connected to a device using a wired connection?
No, Apple hasn’t provided any ports — not even a 3.5mm audio input — to let you plug anything into the HomePod using a cable.
Can I connect to the HomePod via Bluetooth?
Apple has provided Bluetooth connectivity on the HomePod, but that’s limited to its proprietary features. This means that you cannot use the HomePod as a Bluetooth speaker.
Can the HomePod be used to control smart devices?
Apple has integrated HomeKit support into the HomePod to let you control supported smart lights, switches, fans, and sensors using voice commands. You can also set up routines via the Shortcuts app on your iPhone or iPad to let the HomePod execute sequences of actions automatically. That said, the list of HomeKit-supported devices is limited when relative to smart devices that support Alexa and Google Assistant.
Can I remove or replace the HomePod’s power cable?
The cable available with the HomePod is not officially removable, but there are some stories on the Web that describe ways to remove it. We don’t recommend you to do so as this will void your official warranty. You will need to visit an Apple service centre if you have any trouble with the cable.
Is there a way to set up multiple users on the HomePod?
Apple has offered a HomePod multiuser option in certain markets that lets users set up the speaker as a family device, and allows Siri to personalise experiences for up to six users. However, this feature isn’t yet available in India when using the “English (India)” language setting.
Can I prevent Siri on the HomePod from listening to me all the time?
Yes, you can disable Siri on the HomePod by saying “Hey Siri, stop listening!”, or through the Home app. There is no dedicated switch on the HomePod to do this. Once you’ve deactivated Siri, you can only restore it using the Home app on your iPhone or iPad.
Can I see my history of Siri interactions?
Apple hasn’t implemented any way to let you look at your history of interactions with Siri. You can ask the assistant to repeat what was said to it last, but this is limited to a few minutes.
Is there a way to delete my interactions with Siri via the HomePod?
Yes, you can delete your Siri interactions via the HomePod by going to Siri History> Delete Siri History from the HomePod settings on your Home app.
Can I pair two HomePod speakers to get stereo sound?
Yes, Apple has implemented stereo pairing on the HomePod via AirPlay 2. This enables a 3D surround-sound experience.
The Apple HomePod could be a useful companion for iPhone and Apple Music users who need a smart speaker priced below Rs. 20,000. Sound output is good, and it does have several smart features. It can’t be a replacement for a soundbar or Bluetooth speaker, and it won’t work seamlessly with non-Apple devices or services.
However, if you don’t want yourself to lock in the Apple ecosystem, or have a more limited budget, you can go for the Amazon Echo or Google Nest speakers, which have wider support for third-party devices and services, and are more flexible.
Is iPhone SE the ultimate ‘affordable’ iPhone for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.