The advent of smart speakers was a bold attempt to give us the convenience of internet stuff without the tempting distractions of a screen. Simply say what you want out loud and the smart speaker (sometimes) delivers, without you getting pulled down a rabbit hole of listacles or obscure Wikipedia pages.
But then people started putting screens on top of smart speakers in the form of the Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest Home Hub, leaving us with what was essentially a less flexible laptop. That’s progress for you.
Next to join this backwards race will apparently be Apple, which is reportedly working on a HomePod with a screen. This isn’t to be confused with the reported plans to turn iPads into smart screens, but a wholly dedicated new product category.
Word of this comes from the keyboard of Apple soothsayer Ming-Chi Kuo, who wrote on Medium his prediction that Apple will “unveil a redesigned HomePod featuring a 7in panel” in the first half of 2024. The screens will apparently be made by the Chinese firm Tinama, which may be in line to make iPad screens “if the shipment goes well”, Kuo writes.
What would a HomePod with a screen offer that your regular old screenless HomePod doesn’t? It’s a good question as aside from the introduction of video (cooking clips are handy for smart screens living in the kitchen), nobody has really answered the question convincingly. Do I really need a little rainy icon when asking about the weather when the virtual assistant is already telling me it’s going to rain? Not really.
Kuo says that the arrival of a screen could “enable tighter integration with Apple’s other hardware products” which is a bit vague. I suppose a smart screen could run tvOS and essentially be a smaller Apple TV unit, but that feels like overkill as most people don’t want to settle down in front of the latest blockbuster on a 7in screen. Alternatively, it could run iPadOS, but you’d still be better off with something more portable for most iPad apps, you’d imagine.
Perhaps, then, this will be something altogether different: software designed for smart screens with Apple’s usual invitation to app developers to code for it. That could lead to some genuinely transformational functionality, if Apple can provide the install base to justify the coding time.
If Kuo is right, we’ll hopefully find out next year. In the meantime, HomePods without screens are still available. Indeed, Apple refreshed the NZ$529 full-sized model this year if the dinky NZ$179 mini doesn’t provide the sound quality you need.