Why the HomePod Will Only Play Your Purchased Music, or Apple Music (Updated)

A number of people have been wondering why the HomePod will not work with music other than your purchases or Apple Music tracks (as well as Beats 1 radio and podcasts). John Gruber, on Daring Fireball, wonders:

Shouldn’t it work with iCloud Music Library? I get that it might not be able to access songs that only exist as MP3 files on your Mac, but if you have iCloud Music Library, it seems obvious that HomePod ought to be able to access them, no? It’s one thing if it doesn’t work with third-party streaming services like Spotify. But iCloud Music Library is Apple’s own thing.

It is, but… Siri isn’t that smart. You can already see that now; if you try to play music from your iCloud Music Library that isn’t in Apple’s databases, it often fails. For example, I have two King Crimson albums in my iCloud Music Library. If I tell Siri on my iPhone to “play King Crimson,” it starts playing music by that artist; one of four items available on Apple Music: two live albums, one live EP, and one live single. King Crimson, or rather its leader Robert Fripp, is anti-streaming, and I was actually surprised to find that those live recordings are streamable, but no other King Crimson album is.

King crimson

It seems that Siri is designed to not be able to easily play any music it doesn’t recognize; in the sense that it can parse the Apple Music and iTunes Store databases and find artists, albums, and tracks it knows, but it cannot efficiently parse your entire iCloud Music Library, which could contain, potentially, 100,000 tracks that are not available from Apple. (In practice, for most users, this number is low, but if I were to add my live Grateful Dead collection, there would be thousands of tracks that are not available to stream or to buy from Apple.)

My guess is that Apple has built up language models for the pronunciation of artists, albums, and tracks for music it owns, allowing Siri to traverse a database when trying to match music requests, and doing so for each user’s iCloud Music Library would be onerous, and problematic, since each database would have to be unique. If I were to tell Siri to play “Grateful Dead 5/8/77,” I can understand this might be a problem.

Here’s an example. I have an album of shakuhachi music called The Sound of Zen, by Okuda Atsuya, in my iCloud Music Library. This album is not available on Apple Music, nor is it for sale on the iTunes Store; iTunes uploaded my files.

Atsuya

If I ask Siri to play it – and, the album title isn’t that complicated – it fails.

Siri fail

And if I ask to play music by Okuda Atsuya, well…

Siri fail2

However, if I specify an album, such as “Play the album In the Court of the Crimson King,” Siri can play it. So it seems that Siri is limited in how it parses what you say, and is only truly effective when you give it precise requests. (Think of it as a decision tree that narrows down when you add arguments such as “album” or “song;” Siri doesn’t have to search as much metadata.) But because of this need to be specific, I think Apple doesn’t want Siri to seem to fail, so it is limiting what Siri can access when using the HomePod.

Another possibility is that this limitation is present because the HomePod doesn’t have full access to its features when the main user’s iOS device isn’t on the same network. It seems that it will be able to play from Apple Music when that device isn’t present, but that it will no longer be fully linked to an individual’s iCloud Music Library. However, I would find that explanation to be a bit lazy; it wouldn’t be complicated to tell users that there are two scenarios: one, when the iOS device is present, which would allow access to the full iCloud Music Library, and another, when it’s not, which would be limited.

Note that you can, of course, stream music to the HomePod via AirPlay, so you can play any music in your iCloud Music Library or on an iOS device, or even a Mac, but you must initiate the playback manually, not using Siri.

Update: Now it looks as though you will be able to use Siri to access your iCloud Music Library. I await proof that this works correctly.

42 thoughts on “Why the HomePod Will Only Play Your Purchased Music, or Apple Music (Updated)

  1. So insanely embarrassing. Paging Jim Dalrymple! Apple seems to sometimes listen when he complains.

    In the meantime, it’s enough to inspire someone to write a custom parser for jailbroken iOS devices.

    • It would be a huge undertaking, and there’s no guarantee it would be reliable with more obscure names and titles.

  2. So insanely embarrassing. Paging Jim Dalrymple! Apple seems to sometimes listen when he complains.

    In the meantime, it’s enough to inspire someone to write a custom parser for jailbroken iOS devices.

    • It would be a huge undertaking, and there’s no guarantee it would be reliable with more obscure names and titles.

  3. This is a deal breaker for me. I, like you, Kirk, have a lot of music in my iTunes library that is not available in the iTunes store. If I can’t listen to it with a HomePod, I won’t be purchasing one. I’ll look into a Bose Revolve speaker instead. Or one of the many other bluetooth or WiFi speaker that will play my music library.

  4. This is a deal breaker for me. I, like you, Kirk, have a lot of music in my iTunes library that is not available in the iTunes store. If I can’t listen to it with a HomePod, I won’t be purchasing one. I’ll look into a Bose Revolve speaker instead. Or one of the many other bluetooth or WiFi speaker that will play my music library.

  5. In addition, if anyone can recommend a great bluetooth or WiFi speaker that will stream my iTunes library, I would appreciate any input. Thank you.

    • There are tons of excellent AirPlay speakers. I had one of these for a while in the bedroom, and it sounded excellent. It’s a stereo unit.

      http://amzn.to/2DJ2kbC

      I eventually replaced it with a small amplifier and bookshelf speakers that I wasn’t using any more.

  6. In addition, if anyone can recommend a great bluetooth or WiFi speaker that will stream my iTunes library, I would appreciate any input. Thank you.

    • There are tons of excellent AirPlay speakers. I had one of these for a while in the bedroom, and it sounded excellent. It’s a stereo unit.

      http://amzn.to/2DJ2kbC

      I eventually replaced it with a small amplifier and bookshelf speakers that I wasn’t using any more.

    • Not sure if the HomePod will play that, but when I get mine, I’ll check it out. Siri can play that on my iPhone, as long as I say “Play my playlist.”

    • Not sure if the HomePod will play that, but when I get mine, I’ll check it out. Siri can play that on my iPhone, as long as I say “Play my playlist.”

  7. I find the title misleading, a lot.

    Especially since nobody really cares or seriously use siri for anything except voice dictating messages.

  8. I find the title misleading, a lot.

    Especially since nobody really cares or seriously use siri for anything except voice dictating messages.

  9. This is a joke, why would anyone buy a device that leaves out TuneIn and Spotify and every other music streaming service, seriously the Apple TV can’t even deign to provide these services.

  10. This is a joke, why would anyone buy a device that leaves out TuneIn and Spotify and every other music streaming service, seriously the Apple TV can’t even deign to provide these services.

  11. “Note that you can, of course, stream music to the HomePod via AirPlay,”

    Whew, thanks for this. I’ve been looking forward to the Homepod purely as a speaker. But my internet is too slow to stream Apple Music, and my cell reception isn’t always good enough either, plus it can churn through a lot of data. I’ve been looking through the early reviews, and the ones I’ve seen haven’t mentioned Airplay at all, and Apple’s site says nothing about Airplay, or Mac or iTunes requirements (though the file formats include flac), so I was getting worried. So now I can go back to planning an iTunes library that’s recent enough to do modern airplay, but that won’t mangle my metadata.

  12. “Note that you can, of course, stream music to the HomePod via AirPlay,”

    Whew, thanks for this. I’ve been looking forward to the Homepod purely as a speaker. But my internet is too slow to stream Apple Music, and my cell reception isn’t always good enough either, plus it can churn through a lot of data. I’ve been looking through the early reviews, and the ones I’ve seen haven’t mentioned Airplay at all, and Apple’s site says nothing about Airplay, or Mac or iTunes requirements (though the file formats include flac), so I was getting worried. So now I can go back to planning an iTunes library that’s recent enough to do modern airplay, but that won’t mangle my metadata.

  13. That makes it completely useless for me.

    I have over 2000 albums in the iTunes Library on my server. There’s no good way to play those now through an i-Device (it’s too big for an older iPad to load, and it takes something like 15 minutes for a newer iPad to load it through iTunes Sharing.)

  14. That makes it completely useless for me.

    I have over 2000 albums in the iTunes Library on my server. There’s no good way to play those now through an i-Device (it’s too big for an older iPad to load, and it takes something like 15 minutes for a newer iPad to load it through iTunes Sharing.)

  15. For some people – me included – the most important point about HomePod is that it is a ….. speaker. If it sounds as good as Apple’s hype and I can use it as an incremental next step up for my current, simple Airplay setup, then I will probably invest in it.
    If, on the other hand, it transpires that as far as Apple is concerned its most important features are about integration with other things, including Siri, then I probably won’t. For me a key test will be whether my Apple Airport Express will get a Firmware update so it can also use the Airplay 2 protocol, enabling me to stream to multiple rooms / endpoints from iOS.

  16. For some people – me included – the most important point about HomePod is that it is a ….. speaker. If it sounds as good as Apple’s hype and I can use it as an incremental next step up for my current, simple Airplay setup, then I will probably invest in it.
    If, on the other hand, it transpires that as far as Apple is concerned its most important features are about integration with other things, including Siri, then I probably won’t. For me a key test will be whether my Apple Airport Express will get a Firmware update so it can also use the Airplay 2 protocol, enabling me to stream to multiple rooms / endpoints from iOS.

  17. Siri can find and play the CDs I’ve ripped to my iMac and imported to my iPad…it’s more than a bit ridiculous if in fact Siri can’t play them on a HomePod.

  18. Siri can find and play the CDs I’ve ripped to my iMac and imported to my iPad…it’s more than a bit ridiculous if in fact Siri can’t play them on a HomePod.

  19. I refuse to understand why none of these smart speakers have a touchscreen display and why most don’t have a way to connect to your home stereo speakers.

  20. I refuse to understand why none of these smart speakers have a touchscreen display and why most don’t have a way to connect to your home stereo speakers.

  21. Kirk,

    Correct, I would have bought the Show based on the ability to navigate TuneIn and others via a display but unlike some of the other Amazon smart speakers it had no audio out or ethernet capabilities.

    It seems like the whole home stereo industry is out to lunch, I would but the Pioneer XC-HM86 based on the screen alone if it had some decent power but again, does the industry not get it, add some decent screens, combine power, take away the reliance of a smartphone or Ipad to control the streaming part of the receiver and you will sell more devices.

  22. Kirk,

    Correct, I would have bought the Show based on the ability to navigate TuneIn and others via a display but unlike some of the other Amazon smart speakers it had no audio out or ethernet capabilities.

    It seems like the whole home stereo industry is out to lunch, I would but the Pioneer XC-HM86 based on the screen alone if it had some decent power but again, does the industry not get it, add some decent screens, combine power, take away the reliance of a smartphone or Ipad to control the streaming part of the receiver and you will sell more devices.

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