Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

HomePod Preorders Begin January 26 for February 9 Availability in U.S., U.K., and Australia

What a confusing and confused product launch this is. There’s very little additional information beyond what was announced at WWDC, with the exception of a feature and a technology being postponed:

Coming this year in a free software update, users will be able to play music throughout the house with multi-room audio. If HomePod is in the kitchen, users can ask Siri to play jazz in the dining room, or play the same song in each room — perfectly in sync. If there’s more than one HomePod set up in the same room, the speakers can be set up as a stereo pair for an even more immersive sound experience.

Connectivity between multiple HomePods requires AirPlay 2, which has also been postponed from its intended iOS 11.0 ship date.

Nobody likes an armchair quarterback, but hopefully you’ll forgive me for briefly indulging.

The announcement of this product at WWDC has confused me from the start. Some reports have compared the HomePod’s delay to that of the AirPods but, while the shipping delay on the latter product was regrettable, its announcement alongside the iPhone 7 — the first iPhone without a headphone jack — made complete sense. It finished the story.

This, though, is just bizarre. All things considered, a delay of about a month and a half isn’t terrible. But what difference would there have been if Apple had announced the HomePod when it was ready and simply pending regulatory approval? I don’t see any reason why the HomePod had to be announced at WWDC last June.

It might be unfair of me to suggest this. Perhaps the reason I’m so skeptical of this launch is that the HomePod was not demonstrated onstage when it was announced. Its features were described publicly; after the keynote, journalists were given small, limited demos. That’s the extent of public information on this product. I’m especially curious to know if it will be demoed at all in Apple’s retail stores — and how.

The HomePod could be a good — even great — product. But it’s not confidence-inspiring for Apple to set a public deadline, miss it, then launch the product with key features missing and almost no demonstrated capabilities of it performing as expected.

A bit of good news, though: Apple says that the HomePod will be available in France and Germany “this spring”.