Apple’s HomePods are getting a nice social upgrade – and AirPlay now supports Dolby Atmos

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Apple’s WWDC 2024 announcements included the unveiling of iOS 18, and 5 upgrades coming to the AirPods (you can follow all the news as it happens at our WWDC 2024 live blog) – but one product that didn’t get stage time was HomePod.

However, there are upgrades coming to HomePod 2 and HomePod mini, though they’re relatively small, and they were announced by Apple in a separate release to the main WWDC keynote.

First up is the ability to curate a shared playlist queue with HomePods across multiple iPhones using Apple’s SharePlay feature. If someone has Apple Music and has started playing music on a HomePod during a party, other people can bring their iPhone close to the original iPhone (or scan a QR code) to get access to the music queue for the HomePod, and can then control playback and add more songs – and the nice thing is that they can do this even if they don’t have an Apple Music subscription themselves.

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It’s not a game-changer, but I think it’s a really nice social upgrade – as long as your friends are Apple users as well, of course.

The other change – which isn’t specific to HomePods, but they will benefit from it – is that spatial audio information is now supported by AirPlay, including Dolby Atmos. So now, if you’re playing something on your phone with spatial audio support, such as a Dolby Atmos Netflix movie, and you send the audio over to a HomePod for louder playback, it’ll play with the extra separation of Dolby Atmos.

This works with more of the best AirPlay speakers that support spatial audio and Dolby Atmos, though – for example, I’m really looking forward to seeing how well it works with my Sonos Era 300, since AirPlay is often much quicker than using the Sonos app (event the controversial new Sonos app designed to make listening to music easier).

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Dolby Atmos was already supported over Bluetooth, as evidenced by spatial audio not only on AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Max, but I’ve also been making use of it from my iPhone on Sonos Ace headphones. So it’s great to see AirPlay catch up with Bluetooth support there… now if only Apple would support hi-res audio over either Bluetooth or AirPlay

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