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The Morning After: Apple's HomePod returns with new smart home features

The upgraded smart speaker is cheaper, at $299.

Apple

Apple discontinued its original HomePod smart speaker a few years ago. Now, we have a sequel. The company has resurrected the bigger unit with upgraded audio, a more powerful chip, more smart home abilities and, importantly, a lower price. The overall design, however, is mostly unchanged. Some will think it’s still a little pricey at $299, however.

The HomePod has room-sensing tech, so it can read sound reflections to determine its position (near a wall or in free space) and adjust the audio in real-time. There’s also Spatial Audio support. But the most interesting updates are its smart home tools. First, a feature called Sound Recognition can monitor for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and send an alert to your iPhone if it hears one. This tool will be available in a software update "later this spring." Since the new smart home standard Matter is (almost) everywhere, the 2023 HomePod can connect to and control gadgets compatible with it. Apple added that any smart home communications are end-to-end encrypted by default, and the company can't read them.

The new HomePod is available for pre-order now and ships February 3rd. However, if you’re looking for something a little different, you could wait for a hub-styled smart home device. The latest rumors suggest Apple is working on an iPad-based device to go up against the likes of Google and Amazon.

– Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

Google may be working on a location tracker like Apple's AirTag

It could be announced during Google I/O.

According to developer (and well-sourced leaker) Kuba Wojciechowski, Google's Nest team is developing a tracker codenamed Grogu. It'll reportedly include an onboard speaker, as well as support for Bluetooth Low Energy and ultra-wideband (UWB). Wojciechowski found evidence of the tracker when he noticed Google added support for locator tags in the developer hub for Fast Pair, the Android feature that quickly connects Bluetooth devices. Wojciechowski says the Pixel 6 Pro and Pixel 7 Pro both shipped with UWB modules, which would allow them to direct you to nearby objects accurately.

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Amazon is shutting down the AmazonSmile charity program in February

It says the program 'has not grown to create the impact' it was hoping for.

Amazon plans to wind down AmazonSmile, its giving program for buyers to donate to their favorite charities with every purchase, by February 20th, 2023. Apparently, the program's ability to make a meaningful impact was hampered by it having over a million eligible organizations worldwide. Donations were apparently spread too thin. According to Bloomberg, the company donated almost $500 million to charities over the past 10 years through AmazonSmile. Still, the average amount per charity was apparently only $230 due to the sheer number of participating organizations. The cynical approach is that Amazon is axing the program to help with its own cost-cutting. Surely some charitable donation is better than none?

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Boston Dynamics' Atlas shows off its acrobatic 'gopher' skills

Robot, fetch me my tools.

TMA
TMA

Boston Dynamics showed off more of its Atlas robot's stunning agility and dexterity in a new demo video, delivering a tool bag to a human at the top of some scaffolding. “This is more a demonstration of some of the robot’s new control capabilities, and a fun connection to our prior work,” Scott Kuindersma, Atlas team lead, said. “Our hope is that, if we can build the foundational technology that allows us to easily create and adapt dynamic behaviors like these, we should be able to leverage it down the road to perform real, physically demanding jobs.” The robot flips off the scaffolding at the end, too.

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