Last month, Apple released the HomePod Software 13.4 update and although it has no new features for users, this update represents a major change with how Apple manages the HomePod ecosystem.
9to5Mac has analyzed the latest HomePod firmware available and found something unexpected: starting with version 13.4, the HomePod operating system is now based on tvOS, instead of iOS. But what exactly does that mean for the rest of us?
The same, only different
The first thing you need to know is that watchOS, tvOS, and the HomePod Software are basically iOS at their core, so all these operating systems share the same base. What sets them apart are changes Apple makes to adapt each system according to the device it’s intended for, with different interface, settings, and APIs for each one.
But unlike all other versions of the HomePod Software, 13.4 is derived from tvOS, and no longer the original iOS that iPhone and iPad runs. As we said, this doesn’t affect how you use your HomePod since they all run with the same base system, but it makes us think about what Apple is working on for the future of HomePod.
So what’s different?
First of all, it’s worth noting that iOS is designed to work on devices that rely on an internal battery, which means that the way iOS manages power consumption is different from how tvOS does it. Apple TV is always plugged in, and so is the HomePod.
They don’t need as many enhancements to reduce power consumption as the iPhone and iPad, so sharing tvOS code with the HomePod Software should probably save Apple some extra work on that aspect.
Both Apple TV and HomePod also operate as a home hub for HomeKit, since they’re devices that are always connected at home. That may be another reason why Apple has decided to share the code of these two systems.
But there’s also another crucial factor, and that’s the compatibility of current devices with future versions of operating systems. iOS 14 is likely to drop support for devices with the A8 chip (basically the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4), and the first and only generation of the HomePod runs with an A8 chip.
While the fourth generation Apple TV (the HD-only model) also runs with the A8 chip, it will probably not be discontinued this year. If Apple wants to keep the HomePod updated for a longer time, it makes sense that the HomePod Software should be based on the next version of tvOS instead of iOS 14 due to the A8 chip support.
New hardware ahead
Sure, these changes are quite intriguing, but why would Apple bother changing all that right now? The answer might be in the launch of new products, as Bloomberg reported today that Apple is working on a “HomePod mini”.
9to5Mac found references on the HomePod Software 13.4 code for at least two new models of Apple’s smart speaker, but we couldn’t determine more details about them at the moment. These changes can get the operating system ready for a new generation HomePod before it gets announced. After all, Apple wouldn’t make such changes if it were planning to retire the HomePod any time soon.
As we talked about Apple TV, 9to5Mac revealed back in February that a new generation of Apple’s set-top box is expected to be released this year, based on tvOS 13.4 code. We have now heard from a trusted source that this new Apple TV may be equipped with the new A14 chip, the same as the upcoming iPhone 12. The A14 chip will focus on providing more graphics performance and up to 6GB of RAM, our source told us.
What do you expect for the next generation of Apple’s product line-up? Let us know in the comments section below.