iFixit: Apple's HomePod is 'built like a tank'

iFixit is impressed with Apple's advanced speaker design, but this is not an easy system to upgrade.

Apple, HomePod, iOS, iFixit

If the sheer quantity of engineering intelligence iFixit has identified in HomePod is eventually matched in Siri support for multiple users and more search domains, then Apple just nailed the smart speaker market.

'We're pretty impressed'

On the same weekend as Loup Ventures found that if you only ask HomePod the questions it is designed to answer, Siri is more effective than Alexa or Cortana, iFixit took a HomePod apart to see what's inside.

They found that Apple has used a host of advanced technological solutions to ensure the system delivers the best possible sound from a device its size.

The tear-down confirms one of Apple's big claims about its new product — that the mesh used on the HomePod's exterior has been designed to look good without dampening any of the sound.

The engineers found Apple has placed "tiny wiry coils" that allow sound to travel through the fabric unimpeded. These are "sandwiched between the net-like layers," they said.

HomePod's bass woofer moves .79-inches. That's quite a significant distance in a device just 7 inches tall. This enables the speaker to deliver powerful bass (while the built-in A8 processor helps ensure bass sounds don't dominate the overall output). iFixit points out that the system also requires a very large magnet.

"To produce deep, dramatic bass notes a speaker needs to move a lot of air. Traditionally, that's done by increasing the loudspeaker's diameter, but Apple increased the travel of the voice coil instead. Now, the speaker diameter stays small, but it can still move enough air to effectively bass your face off."

Apple also spent time thinking about air distribution through its system, designing a series of vents to prevent air pressure from building up and "distorting both the music and the dome as it moves several thousand times a second."

HomePod also listens when it plays — not only for the phrase, "Hey Siri," but also to make real-time adjustments to music playback in order to deliver optimized sound. It does this by using signal processing to fine-tune the woofer's performance to keep the bass in line with other frequencies.

HomePod not easy to upgrade or repair

You can see why the HomePod user guide takes pains to warn people not to leave the system near liquids — repairs cost almost as much as the device itself.

The iFixit tear down analysis tells us why: "The HomePod is built like a tank," they say, pointing out that they had to use brute force to open up the system.

One strange thing they note is that when taken apart, the system looks as if it was built to be more easily broken down, but they couldn't "decode" it. The overall impact? HomePod has a reparability rating of 1 out of 10.

So, who is making the components used in the system? iFixit notes the following named component manufacturers in the device:

  • Apple A8 processor
  • Texas Instruments
  • Cypress Semi
  • Toshiba flash memory
  • STM Microelectronics
  • International Rectifier
  • Synaptics

What next for HomePod?

I'm hearing some speculation that Apple may ship as many HomePod speakers as it does Apple Watches in the coming months.

That's a big claim. IDC estimates Apple Watch sales exceeded those of the Swiss watch industry in Q4 2017.

If Apple does achieve that level of market acceptance, then it makes perfect sense to expect the company to continue to build out the applications and capabilities of its latest platform.

We already see signs of this — the company will introduce support to enable use of two HomePod devices in stereo in a few weeks' time. There's no doubt at all that Apple will seek to extend its solutions into new usage and markets.

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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