As smart speakers go, you won’t find a better-sounding one than Apple’s HomePod. The smart home side of things might be a little undercooked but give it some music to play and it really sings. Just as well considering it costs the same as three-and-a-half Amazon Echos.
Since the HomePod went on sale back in February, Apple has added a few extra features and with the release of iOS 12 it’s now even more capable. But getting the most out it can be a bit daunting. If there’s no proper screen and everything’s controlled using your voice, how do you know exactly what it can and can’t do?
Well never fear, because Stuff is here to guide you through all the sneaky tricks of HomePod ownership. With these 25 tips you’ll have it justifying its lofty price tag in no time.
1. Seek out the settings
The HomePod doesn’t have its own app on your phone; if you want to tweak anything you have to fire up the pre-installed Home app then press and hold the corresponding HomePod icon. This will give you the option to either set alarms or dive deeper into the HomePod’s settings.
From here you can rename it if you move rooms (or get a second one), enable location services, change Siri’s voice or even turn Apple’s AI helper off completely. If you do that you have to press and hold the screen on top in order to deliver any voice commands, or you can just use the next tip instead...
2. Bypass Siri
Got a sore throat? Siri struggling to understand your request for Gwreiddiau Dwfn/Mawrth Oer Ar y Blaned Neifion by Super Furry Animals? Well it turns out you don’t have to rely on Apple’s AI assistant to control your HomePod.
As long as your phone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network, firing up the Music app and hitting the AirPlay logo at the bottom of the Now Playing screen will bring up a bubble with your HomePod inside it. Pressing this will allow you to go back and use the standard Apple Music interface to find and play a song. It’s a bit clunky but it’s definitely easier than learning Welsh.
3. Keep things to yourself
Kids love talking to Siri but their taste in music is dreadful. That can mess with Apple Music’s carefully curated playlists and recommendations. You don’t want to tell Siri: “Play some music I like,” only to be serenaded by Elsa from Frozen for the 4000th time, do you?
If you open the HomePod settings in your phone’s Home app and turn off ‘Use Listening History’, when it comes to putting together your personalised playlists Apple Music will stop paying attention to what your HomePod plays and just use your phone’s listening history instead. That way you won’t get nursery rhymes served up among your Springsteen b-sides.
4. Tell swearing to **** off
Snoop Dogg might sound like a character from a kids’ TV show but a lot of his music is far from being suitable for pre-watershed ears, so giving your kids free rein over your AI DJ might not be the best idea.
That is unless you’ve turned off explicit content in the HomePod’s main settings menu via the Home app, thereby protecting their delicate ears from inadvertently hearing all about what the Doggfather has planned for his lady friends that evening.
5. Make it a HomePodcast
It’s not just music that sounds great on the HomePod. It also gives you on-demand access to any podcast that’s available through iTunes, and without having to download anything either. Just ask Siri for the podcast you want to hear, although it can be difficult to get it to play anything other than the most recent episode.
Once you’ve got the latest episode of your favourite one playing, you can easily skip ahead by just telling Siri to fast-forward 10, 20, 30 seconds, or however long is necessary to get past all the mattress and razor ads.
6. Double up
Sure, it’s an expensive way to get stereo sound, but if you sleep on a bed of money, the release of AirPlay 2 means you can now pair up two HomePods.
As long as you have two in close proximity to each other and both are connected to the Home app on your iThing, it’ll ask if you want to create a stereo pair. And it’s worth it, because two most certainly sounds even better than one.
7. Go multiroom
If you’d rather keep your multiple HomePods separate, iOS 12 means they can now be used as a proper Sonos-style multiroom system.
Each HomePod you setup has a room name allocated to it, so all you need to do is say: “Hey Siri, move this song to the kitchen” or “Play this song everywhere” and you can have music wherever you go. You can also have different songs playing in different rooms and control the volume independently.
8. Make a wall of sound
The A8 chip inside the HomePod is there to make sure it sounds as good as possible, no matter where you put it.
It uses the built-in microphones to listen to itself and adjust the audio accordingly, but we’ve found that putting it near a wall means that it bounces ambient sounds off, while pushing the main elements, such as lead vocals, out into the centre of the room, giving a fuller, wider sound.
9. Under the covers
If you ask Siri for Yesterday, it’ll quite reasonably play The Beatles. But what if you wanted Guy Garvey’s Yesterday? Or Toni Braxton’s? Just tell Siri to “play a different version” and the HomePod will pick a different song with the same title.
If you don’t know the name of the song you want to hear you can also try describing it. Asking for the “Kendrick Lamar song featuring Rihanna,” for example, will get you Loyalty. Pretty impressive.
10. Soothe the move from Spotify
To get the best out of your HomePod you’re going to need an Apple Music subscription. If you’re a former Spotify user, starting anew is going to take some getting used to, but there are ways to make the move as smooth as possible. For starters, you can transfer your playlists using an app such as Houdini (£2.99) or Songshift (£free).
The latter also has a £3.99 Pro version that keeps all your playlists synced across services. Apple Music doesn’t have a direct equivalent of Discover Weekly but there is a Best of the Week playlist, which is more like Spotify’s Release Radar. Still, it might just contain your new favourite band.
11. Or don't leave at all
In our review of the HomePod we criticised its lack of support for anything but Apple Music - but there is an emergency workaround.
Open the Spotify app on your phone, play a song and hit the bit that says Devices Available at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down to where it says More Devices and use that menu to select the HomePod. You can do the same with any app that supports AirPlay.
Once this is done and you’ve got it singing from Spotify’s song sheet you can use Siri to play, pause, skip tracks and change the volume, you just can’t make specific song requests like you can when using Apple Music.
12. Mash up your genres
Sometimes you don’t know what you want to listen to but you know exactly the situation you need to soundtrack. When that happens your HomePod can help you out.
Got a deadline to hit? Ask for some “ambient electronic music for working”. Got the new boss coming round for dinner but don’t think he’ll be into your Cannibal Corpse back catalogue? Just ask for a “chill dinner party” playlist (and be prepared for an onslaught of musical beige).
Experiment with mixing up genres and activities to see what you get, although heavy metal for meditating might be pushing it.
13. Teach Siri your tastes
Ask Siri to play some music you like and it’ll use your listening history to put together a setlist of tunes by bands or artists you’ve listened to before, or from genres you told it you liked when you initially set up your Apple Music account.
You can help it get a better grip on your tastes just by saying: “Hey Siri, I like this,” when it plays something you’re into, or “Hey Siri, I don’t like this band,” if it ever plays U2.
14. Do you know the one that goes...
Know the words but not the name of the song? Just ask Siri to “Play the song that goes…”, recite the lyrics and the HomePod will dig through its lyric books looking for the tune you’re after.
Its hit rate is impressively high, correctly identifying everything from This Charming Man to Katy Perry’s Firework, although “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld” played The Future by the man himself rather than Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea. Oh, and don’t try singing the words instead, failure to recognise your warbling is only likely to offend.
15. Let your friends DJ
Remember that dinner party we mentioned earlier? Well everyone’s having a good time and you’ve even given your guests the Wi-Fi password. That’s some commitment because it also means they can have a say in what music gets played, if they have an Apple Music subscription.
All they have to do is open up the HomePod controls in Control Center, press on the album art and choose ‘add songs to queue’ in Apple Music, and it’ll add them to your HomePod’s terrifyingly democratic playlist.
16. Mic up your Mac
The HomePod is easily good enough to be your main music system, even if it does lack any multiroom skills, so you’ll probably want to channel all your audio through it, including anything stored on your Mac. To do this, you simply need to set up your Mac so that it uses the HomePod as the main audio output device.
In System Preferences, choose the Sound menu, select Output from the options at the top and simply select the HomePod from the list, not forgetting that it’ll be listed as whatever you named it during setup. Now every noise your Mac makes will come through the HomePod.
17. Brush up on your trivia
Guy Berryman could hit you over the head with a sign that says “I PLAY BASS FOR COLDPLAY” and you probably still wouldn’t recognise him - but that doesn’t mean Siri’s clueless too.
You can ask names of band members, album titles, songwriters and sometimes even who plays which instrument on certain songs, although that’s reliant on Wikipedia having the relevant information.
It knows that Sting co-wrote Money for Nothing, for example, but not that he sings backing vocals on it. A rookie error.
18. Note to self...
If you chose to enable Personal Requests when you set up your HomePod you’ll be able to access notes and reminders via Siri, so you can just make a note to self when necessary, a bit like Alan Partridge and his ideas for TV shows.
It also allows you to send texts and WhatsApp messages using only your voice, and if you want, you can turn it into the world’s most over-engineered speakerphone by selecting the HomePod from the audio options when you’re making a call. Handy for when someone calls to sing you happy birthday.
19. Take a rain check
Siri has been available on iPhones since the 4S but, as anyone with an Amazon Echo will attest, voice assistants become much more useful when you don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket before you can ask them anything.
Siri on the HomePod does everything it does on your phone, but asking whether you’re going to need an umbrella that day as you make your morning coffee, or what seven feet is in metres as you sit and work out the measurements for the new shed, makes using it’s AI expertise more natural than ever before.
20. "Siri, phone home"
Your HomePod has always been able to send texts and WhatsApp messages but now it can make and receive calls too. When your phone rings, just say: “Hey Siri, answer that call” and it’ll route the audio through the HomePod, using its built-in microphones to relay your side of the convo. If you want to make one, just tell Siri to “Call Ainsley” or whoever you want to speak to.
Got nobody to talk to? Say “Play my voicemails” and Siri will play any new ones. If there aren’t any, you can listen to oldies instead, but you’d have to be really bored to do that.
21. Where did I leave my phone?
Apple’s Find My iPhone can be a lifesaver if your blower goes missing but if you just put it down at home and can’t remember where you left it, you can use your HomePod to help you find it.
Just say “Hey Siri, find my iPhone” and the HomePod will send an SOS call to your mislaid mobile, which will emit a distress signal to help you work out which sofa cushion it’s fallen behind. The real question is: why didn’t you just look there in the first place?
22. Multiply your timers
If you thought Amazon’s Echo was the most extravagant kitchen timer available, the HomePod can now cope with multiple countdowns, so using a £320 speaker to tell you when your oven chips are done surely has to take that honour.
There doesn’t seem to be a limit, so even the most bountiful banquet can be prepared using the HomePod to keep track of cooking times. Just try to remember which one’s for the sausage rolls and which is for the mini samosas, OK?
23. Take a Shortcut to Siri
The HomePod is excellent when it comes to playing music, but compared to other smart speakers its IQ rating is a few points lower.
Support for Siri shortcuts might help to change that slightly, meaning you can use your phone to record particular phrases that’ll trigger very specific actions every time you utter them to Apple’s voice assistant. You’re basically teaching an old dog new tricks, but being able to activate them via your HomePod should make using them second nature.
Smart home helpers
24. Set the Scenes
The HomePod is compatible with any device that supports Apple’s HomeKit, becoming the hub that’s used to control everything.
Using the + button in the top corner of the Home app’s main screen, you can create what are called Scenes, which are essentially specific setups for multiple HomeKit-compatible devices: turning on the lights, heating and coffee machine first thing in the morning, for example. And she'll be a bit more cheery than the average London commuter.
Once you’ve set the Scene you can activate it simply by saying, for example, “good morning” to your HomePod.
25. Supercharge your Apple TV
The HomePod isn’t strictly designed to be used with Apple TV but both support AirPlay, so there’s no reason why you can’t pair them up to boost your movie night setup. After all, it’s a definite upgrade on your TV’s built-in speakers.
To get them talking, just hold down the play/pause button on the remote and it’ll show any compatible speakers on the same network as your Apple TV. Choose the HomePod and away you go. The audio should sync fine with video but it’s no good if you want to play games - the lag will be too much.