Apple’s HomePod now runs software based on tvOS as it moves to develop a more sophisticated smart home platform.
Homes are computers
Smart home technology is evolving. It is becoming clear that connected devices inside homes need platforms powerful enough to deliver the convenience on which these things are sold, while also bringing the security, privacy and automation advantages we used to read about in sci-fi novels.
I’ve written about some of the unexpected problems that have shown themselves since the first HomeKit device appeared. As the intelligence inside these devices grows, those challenges will become more complex to resolve.
This is why Apple at WWDC 2019 introduced HomeKit-approved routers and CCTV systems, moves that showed the company sees the need to wrap security and privacy around smart homes.
The move to put tvOS inside HomePods is (I think) an expression of this. While tvOS is based on iOS, which is to an extent also based on macOS, the move to coalese Apple’s home platforms around one OS “brand” surely shows something?
What does a move to tvOS bring to HomePod?
Both the Apple TV and HomePod already act as HomeKit hubs, so you can control your smart systems remotely. The move to put tvOS inside both systems opens the doors to further integration between Apple’s domestic devices.
It may also set the scene for further evolutions, including the deployment of machine intelligence inside HomeKit smart homes – homes that lliterally learn who you are, identify your preferences, and pre-empt your wishes.
Apple is certainly exploring ways in which to make smart homes smarter. Recent patent filings have described technologies that provide HomePod with the ability to figure out who is in a room, for example.
Bringing Apple’s home-focused platforms and systems together under one overriding “Home OS” seems to be a logical step.
What next for HomePod?
Apple is expected to introduce a smaller and more affordable HomePod device during its online WWDC event.
A recent Bloomberg report claimed HomePod and Apple TV hardware development to be two of the tasks its teams are working on remotely during the coronoavirus pandemic.
In support of this, Apple is thought to be working on improvements to Apple Music, home-focused Siri improvements (possibly built around technology acquired with Xnor.ai, which enabled deep learning on low-power devices) and support for additional services, potentially including an evolution in how it provides podcasts.
It may also be worth recollecting a 2017 claim from Yuanta Investment Consulting analyst Jeff Pu that Apple is developing HomePods equipped with 3D-sensing cameras.
All about the music
HomePod’s big advantage is its immaculate sound. Apple’s audio development teams continue to excel – just take a look at the outstanding audio reproduction you get on the latest iPads and Macs to illustrate this.
That means a smaller HomePod system may be able to offer similar or better-quality sound at a lower price point, supplemented with smarter Siri, self-learning AI and extended smart home capabilities. Buttons on the system could be disguised in the fabric covering the device.
The Apple A8 processor that is used in the current HomePod dates from 2014. It first appeared in the iPhone 6 and is no longer supported by iOS 13. Apple will certainly replace the processor with something more recent, perhaps the A11 series introduced with iPhone 8 and X.
At the heart of the home
Apple never sold HomePod as MusicPod. This always signalled its intention to put the device at the heart of the home. That means person identification, smart home controls, gesture- and voice-based interaction, high degrees of security/automation and more.
The move to run the device on tvOS should make it a more solid platform, likely opening up opportunity for developers to build new experiences.
The only stumbling block would be when we reach the point that consumers turn against the sensation of a sneaking surveillance in smart home devices.
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