There’s never exactly been an official name for Apple’s HomePod operating system. Under the hood, it’s called audioOS, but this is a purely internal name used by Apple’s engineers. For a while, Apple called it HomePod iOS, then HomePod OS, but these days it’s just “HomePod Software.” Nevertheless, it’s part of the same family of operating systems at its core. Apple’s original full-sized HomePod began its life as a direct sibling of iOS before quietly moving to tvOS as a foundation shortly before the release of the first HomePod mini.
Apple has long provided public betas for its products, including the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but it has been a little slower to include some of its other gadgets. However, 2018 could be the year when the HomePod is eventually included. After opening, the Apple TV didn’t join Apple’s public beta programme until the summer of 2017, when tvOS 11 was released. Even later, the Apple Watch, which debuted with watchOS 7 barely two years ago, joined the group. Now, it appears as though Apple is getting ready to make the HomePod-equivalent of iOS 16 available for public beta.
After all, HomePod Software is installed over the air through an iPhone. It’s not entirely clear how one goes about telling a HomePod to accept a beta version of its software rather than looking for the next release. While this will undoubtedly be through a beta profile, similar to how it works with the Apple Watch and the private HomePod betas available through the AppleSeed program, public beta testers with multiple HomePods may not want to risk installing beta software on all of them.
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However, once Apple opens its public beta program for the HomePod, you’ll presumably be able to download the beta profile and install it using your iPhone, after which a new HomePod Beta Updates menu will appear in the Home app’s Software Updates section — the same place you go to look for new public releases of HomePod software. Tapping on this option will show a list of all the HomePod mini speakers on your network, with a toggle switch beside each one that can be used to decide whether it gets the beta.
Fortunately, it looks like Apple has included a way to address this in iOS 16 beta 2. The folks at 9to5Mac have discovered a hidden menu in the Home app that lets you choose which speakers get the HomePod beta software. This menu will only appear after you’ve installed a HomePod beta profile, so don’t bother looking for it now. Even Apple developers don’t have access to a HomePod beta yet, so there’s no profile to download.
Notably, any original full-size HomePods on your network don’t appear on this list. While this could mean that HomePod software 16 won’t be available for the now-discontinued smart speaker, it’s also possible that Apple doesn’t want to risk people bricking their speakers. A HomePod mini can be restored over USB-C from a Mac or PC; the original HomePod doesn’t have this capability.
In other words, if something goes wrong with the beta software on your HomePod mini, you need only plug it into your Mac, open Finder, and click a few buttons. If that happens to a full-size HomePod, the best case is that you’re stuck with a semi-functional speaker until the next beta comes along, but it’s also possible things could get a lot worse. We don’t know yet when the first HomePod betas will arrive. iOS 16 is likely to enter public beta early next month, but there’s no guarantee that the HomePod public beta will arrive at the same time.