Report: Apple plans Apple TV/HomePod and iPad/HomePod hybrid products

RIP HomePod, 2021.
Enlarge / RIP HomePod, 2021.

Apple is working on multiple new products to replace the recently discontinued HomePod and to bring Siri and Apple services into living rooms, according to a new report from Bloomberg’s Debby Wu and Mark Gurman.

One of those products would be a device that combines the TV streaming box and gaming features of the Apple TV 4K with a HomePod-like smart speaker, as well as a camera.

The device would allow users to stream TV shows, videos, music, and films using the same apps that are already available on the Apple TV. It would also act as a Siri-enabled smart speaker, and it would enable video conferencing on the connected TV.

Adding further evidence to the rumor, Bloomberg reports that Apple combined its HomePod and Apple TV engineering groups last year, enabling them to work closer together.

The report says nothing about the device’s form factor, but we should note that Roku already offers a somewhat similar product called the Roku Streambar: it combines a soundbar with a streaming box as well as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice functionality.

Apple has not updated its Apple TV 4K set-top box in several years, and the device has carved out a minuscule portion of the streaming box market (just 2 percent, according to Bloomberg), in part due to its high price. But recent discoveries in the tvOS beta have given the impression that a new tvOS device, possibly a new version of the Apple TV 4K with an HDMI 2.1 port and 120Hz support, is coming soon.

On the other hand, this smart speaker/streaming box combination product might be a ways off. The report indicates that it’s still in early development.

A touch screen and a robotic arm

Also in early development is a new HomePod with a touch screen, the report claims.

This HomePod variant would also include a camera for video conferencing, and it is described as essentially having a built-in or connected iPad as a display. And in an unexpected twist, the article claims that “Apple has explored connecting the iPad to the speaker with a robotic arm that can move to follow a user around a room.”

Apple discontinued its pricey HomePod smart speaker in recent weeks, after it failed to sell well—again, in part due to a relatively high price. Bloomberg describes this new touchscreen product as “high-end,” perhaps suggesting it may be a more direct replacement for the recently discontinued HomePod.

After it introduced the HomePod, Apple launched a cheaper alternative called the HomePod mini that has sold better. Other tech companies have had similar struggles getting users to purchase expensive, high-end smart speakers; Google discontinued its HomePod-comparable Google Home Max even as its other, cheaper smart speakers have sold relatively well.

In any case, this new product would not be the only screen-equipped smart speaker; that is a thriving product category unto itself, with products from Amazon, LG, Facebook, and many other companies already on the market. Most of them have entry-level price points.

Also, a note about the iPad Pro

Rumors and leaks have for months claimed that a new iPad Pro would come this spring, and that it would feature a Mini LED screen—a refinement of LCD technology that allows for better contrast, among other improvements. Another, separate Bloomberg report today claims that the new iPad Pro is still coming, but that availability of the 12.9-inch model will be limited because of supply issues with the companies producing Mini LED screens.

The iPad report claims that the new Mini LED display technology will be exclusive to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. If the smaller, 11-inch iPad Pro doesn’t have the new display technology, it may not face the same supply issues.

For the past couple of years, Apple has introduced new iPads in March, but that didn’t happen in 2021. Analysts and leakers still claim the product’s launch is imminent, however.