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How HomePod works with Apple Music, iTunes Match, iCloud Music Library, AirPlay, and FLAC files

  • Posted by admin on January 28, 2018

Confused about what HomePod can and can’t play? Here’s the breakdown.

Since my hands on with the HomePod, I’ve gotten a number of questions about how the HomePod deals with streaming from Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, AirPlay sources like your Mac, and if iTunes Match works at all in this crazy new world.


I’m still trying to sort a lot of this out myself, but here’s how everything is supposed to work, from what I’ve been able to confirm. I’ll be updating this article as I hear more.

If you do not subscribe to Apple Music or iTunes Match, here’s what you get

If you buy HomePod and do not have a subscription to either of Apple’s streaming services — Apple Music or iTunes Match — you’ll be able to use the following audio-based features.

Siri requests

You can ask Siri to play the following:

  • Any podcast or episode from Apple’s iTunes podcast directory
  • The news
  • Any song, album, or audiobook purchased through your Apple ID associated with the device (which you can change at any time in the Home app)
  • Beats 1 and other live radio stations

You’ll also be able to use Siri to play, pause, skip songs, and the like. And all the other Siri features advertised (HomeKit, timers, weather, traffic, etc) work, too.

Stream other audio via AirPlay

Even though HomePod doesn’t ship with AirPlay 2, it can still receive audio from any device that can AirPlay. That includes your Macs, Apple TV, iPhones, and iPads, along with any third-party apps that support the feature (including work-arounds for Android and things like AirSonos).

I want to reiterate, because I’ve seen a number of people passing around conflicting information: You can stream any audio (including anything from your iTunes library on your Mac) to HomePod via the original AirPlay protocol.

When AirPlay 2 launches, you’ll be able to stream that audio to multiple AirPlay-compatible speakers, but the AirPlay 2 protocol is not required to stream audio from your Mac or other sources.

What does this all mean in practice if you’re not an Apple Music subscriber? Essentially, you’ll just have to use one of your devices to AirPlay content to your HomePod instead of using Siri to request it. You’ll miss out on a lot of the Siri-specific music features, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re primarily interested in HomePod as a speaker and for its better privacy implementations than other smart speakers.

If you only subscribe to iTunes Match

This is an edge case I’m currently trying to get more information on (as of January 27), but from what I currently understand, iTunes Match subscribers are treated identically to non-Apple Music subscribers.

That’s to say that you can request Beats 1, news, podcasts, or purchased iTunes music only, but if you want to play songs in iCloud Music Library, you may have to stream them via AirPlay from one of your other devices.

Is this frustrating? Absolutely. Paying subscribers should be able to use Apple’s Siri music commands to request any songs — and honestly, given Apple’s Home Sharing framework, I’d argue HomePod should be able to pull any song from your associated iTunes library, period. But Siri is a complicated beast, especially where unclear metadata comes into play: If you have a song in your library named “untitled_1_five00000,” how would you request it?


Siri on Apple TV has similar problems: You can access iCloud Music Library by saying “play my music” or “play my music from [artist],” but requesting specific songs on Apple TV or iPhone has long been tricky, and Siri can’t find individual songs from your library if their names are less than friendly to parse.

Will HomePod have similar controls for Match subscribers: Will users be able to say “play my music,” or “play my music from [x]”? I can’t confirm the answer yet, but I’m looking into it.

The good news is that this is more a software issue than anything else: As Siri evolves, Apple should be able to solve this problem to better connect iCloud Music Library (and hopefully, Home Sharing) to HomePod and Siri.

If you subscribe to Apple Music

Congratulations! If you subscribe to Apple Music, you have access to pretty much all the audio controls that Apple offers for HomePod. That includes…

Siri requests

Any Siri command that works with Apple Music works on HomePod, including asking for specific songs, asking to play music from a certain genre or band, off the charts, programmatic radio, and more. (If you want a more in-depth overview, I’d check Apple’s Apple TV support page, as the commands are nigh-similar.)

I’ve received confirmation that yes, Apple Music subscribers will be able to access any track or playlist from their iCloud Music Library by requesting it from Siri by asking “play my music,” or “play my music from [x].” (Still no confirmation on iTunes Match, but looking into it.)

You can additionally ask Siri to play the following:

  • Any podcast or episode from Apple’s iTunes podcast directory
  • The news
  • Any song, album, or audiobook purchased through your Apple ID associated with the device (which you can change at any time in the Home app)
  • Beats 1 and other live radio stations

You’ll also be able to use Siri to play, pause, skip songs, and the like. And all the other Siri features advertised (HomeKit, timers, weather, traffic, etc) work, too.

AirPlay

As with non-subscribers, any device or app that supports AirPlay can send that audio to HomePod — you just won’t be able to request it with your voice.

Why does Apple support FLAC for HomePod when iTunes doesn’t stream FLAC files?

Simply put: Because you can AirPlay FLAC (or Lossless, WAV, or AIFF) files from any device to your HomePod.

(This isn’t a secret hint that Apple’s about to start supporting FLAC streaming. Sorry, folks.)

Does Apple support Bluetooth streaming for HomePod?

Despite Apple listing Bluetooth 5.0 as part of HomePod’s specifications, I haven’t heard anything that would lead me to believe it can be used as a Bluetooth speaker — AirPlay only. To my knowledge, Bluetooth 5.0 is in there to aid in the setup process, but again, I don’t yet have confirmation on this so can’t state definitively.

Other questions?

Let me know below or on Twitter and I’ll try to answer them.

Updated January 28 2018: Added confirmation on iCloud Music Library over Siri for Apple Music subscribers.

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