With iOS 11.4, Apple finally added a number of new and much awaited features to HomePod. Thanks to updated AirPlay 2 protocol, HomePod now supports stereo pairing and multi-room audio. Siri on HomePod can also handle calendar events now. This makes HomePod a little more functional than it was a week ago, however, it still has a long way to go before it can compete against the likes of Google Home and Alexa. Meanwhile, with the addition of these new features, here are all the new tricks that the HomePod can do now.
Play audio to multiple speakers
The change in iOS 11’s audio controls were always intended to accommodate the capability of playing audio to multiple speakers. While AirPlay 2 took some time to roll out, the controls finally make more sense. When you’re playing audio in any app, you can either swipe up the control center and long press on the audio card (the controls with the playback buttons) to open volume controls. From this screen, you can tap and select or deselect different devices to play audio (music or podcasts) to them. This will also show individual volume controls for each device you enable, so you can set different volume levels using the sliders.
If you are playing different audio to different devices at the same time, you will see the audio card for each of the device, group or zone, with its own output details, playback and volume controls.
You can also use Siri to play music to a specific speaker or all speakers just by using commands like “Play music everywhere”, “play music in the bedroom speaker” or “play music downstairs”, if you have setup your speakers in zones.
From your Mac, you can click on the AirPlay icon in iTunes to output audio to individual speakers or multiple speakers at the same time. Apple TV also has limited support for outputting music to HomePods. When listening to music, swipe up on the Siri remote and click on the Airplay icon. You will see a list of your speakers and zones to playback audio to.
A number of third party companies will be releasing AirPlay 2 compatible speakers and they will also support multi-room audio, along with HomePod.
Create a HomePod stereo pair
This feature was announced along with HomePod, but it took almost 4 months after the smart speaker’s release for it to gain this functionality. As the feature name suggests, you need two HomePods to enable it. After the initial setup, both speakers work intelligently with each other to create stereo audio output.
To setup Stereo Pair, make sure that both of your HomePods are connected to the same wireless network and added to your iOS Home app.
- Open the Home app and long press on one of your HomePods and tap details
- Tap on Create Stereo Pair
- Select your second HomePod to create a group
- Tap on the HomePod icons to setup the correct right and left audio channels or swap them. That’s all you need to do. Your stereo pairing is now setup and you can use your iOS devices, Apple TV or Siri voice control to playback audio to this new setup.
If, for some reason, you want to remove the stereo pairing, simply go to the Home app, tap and hold on the grouped HomePods, tap details and tap on Ungroup Accessories.
Use Calendar with Siri on HomePod
Apple has made Siri a little bit smarter by adding calendar support. With this new feature, you can talk to Siri on HomePod to add/edit and delete calendar events. However, there are two requirements to use this feature:
- Your iOS device must be connected to the same Wireless network as the HomePod
- You iOS device and HomePod must be using the same Apple ID
- Personal Requests must be setup. This can be done by going to to Home app, tapping on compass icon, tapping on your name and turning on the toggle for Personal Requests.
- This feature only works in US, UK and Australia. If you have a HomePod but are not in any of these countries, you can change your region settings to enable this feature.
The issue with this feature is that it does not recognize your voice so functionality is very limited. Unlike Google Home and Alexa, it will not recognize you and use your own calendar or settings. I hope Apple announces similar functionality at WWDC 2018.