When Apple launches a typical product — say an iPhone or iPad — you can usually predict the reviews pretty closely. Expected capabilities include strong overall performance in its price class and new features that may or may not track with what Android device manufacturers are doing. Sometimes, as with Retina Displays, Apple leads the pack. Sometimes, as with wireless charging, it’s years behind the curve. It’s unusual for an Apple device to come up markedly short, and even more unusual for it bomb altogether — but the HomePod shows some signs of being the rare Apple failure.
The problem is simple. The HomePod is a $350 speaker that works exclusively and only with Apple products. It can stream music if you have an Apple Music subscription. It can stream music from iTunes Music purchases, or the iCloud Music Library. It can stream audio from a different device, provided it’s from Apple and supports AirPlay. And that’s it. There’s no Bluetooth support. There’s no wired audio support. There’s no way to use the HomePod as an output for a different A/V device, and you can’t even replace the power cable (technically you can, but Apple doesn’t consider this a user-repairable option).
In other words, the HomePod is an extraordinarily limited speaker. It doesn’t even work with the Android version of Apple Music. And now, there’s evidence, admitted by Apple itself, that the HomePod can stain and mar certain types of countertops — potentially permanently.
The problem is the interaction between surfaces that are oiled, like butcher block countertops, and the silicon base of the HomePod itself. Apple has acknowledged the problem, but dismissed the idea of its HomePod being to blame. The company writes:
It is not unusual for any speaker with a vibration-damping silicone base to leave mild marks when placed on some wooden surfaces. The marks can be caused by oils diffusing between the silicone base and the table surface, and will often go away after several days when the speaker is removed from the wooden surface. If not, wiping the surface gently with a soft damp or dry cloth may remove the marks. If marks persist, clean the surface with the furniture manufacturer’s recommended cleaning process. If you’re concerned about this, we recommend placing your HomePod on a different surface.
For what it’s worth, Apple is right. It is not unusual for this interaction to occur. It can also happen with any rubber-footed product on oiled countertops. And a company that wanted its users to have the best possible experience might consider warning said users when they buy the device.
There’s an easy way to do it, too. Decades ago, some corporate genius dreamed up an amazing invention: Small, insertable paper cards with pertinent information on the proper maintenance and setup of the included product. In some cases, this important information is bundled up, bound together (typically in 237 languages, organized by height), and published in a volume we refer to as an “instruction manual.”
Wait, did I say decades? I actually mean millennia. The Antikythera mechanism is now known to have had an instruction manual for its use engraved on the metal itself.
By all indications, the HomePod’s admittedly excellent sound quality isn’t enough to overcome its limitations and flaws. Stains from it can appear on countertops in as little as 20 minutes, according to Pocket-Lint. More and more, this is looking like one speaker worth skipping.