Pondering the HomePod's Accessibility Story

At WWDC two weeks ago, Apple introduced its HomePod speaker, the company’s long-awaited competitor to the Amazon Echo and Google Home. (Ostensibly, anyway. Apple’s positioning this product more around “reinventing” home audio.) Apple gave an “ears-on” briefing to a select group of reporters, which included Jason Snell and Jim Dalrymple. Both reported the forthcoming device sounds great while emphasizing it’s unfinished. There’s more to its capability than Apple showed. Like iMac Pro, we got a sneak peek.

Apple says the HomePod will be available in December, and a lot can change in the intervening six months. One area of particular interest to me is, of course, accessibility. The accessibility story of this product will be fascinating to hear—pun intended—as the voice-first paradigm comes with unique accessibility considerations. As with its other products, Apple has almost assuredly considered the HomePod’s accessibility during the design process. What exactly that will entail, however, is unknown at this point.

Which means there are questions, and I have many. Among them:

  • Will Siri competently understand my stutter?
  • Will Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid technology integrate with the HomePod in some way?
  • Will iOS 11’s Type to Siri accessibility feature work with HomePod?
  • Will the “glowing orb” light on the top of the HomePod be a good visual cue that the device is listening?
  • Will HomePod work with Switch Control for users who can’t speak commands or tap a button to interact with it?

I suppose Apple will answer these questions in the months ahead, and presumably the HomePod will have a substantial presence at September's iPhone event after being tinkered with another few months. Until then, I'm left to wonder. Phil Schiller says one of Apple's goals with HomePod is to "rock the house." That's fine… so long as it's done accessibly.

Of the questions I pose, the one most interesting to me concerns Type to Siri. If you, like me, have a speech delay, communicating with Siri can at times be a frustrating experience. This obviously has relevance to HomePod—a huge part of its appeal to me (and others) who stutter will hinge on how well Siri parses our speech. Type to Siri should be a wonderful fallback option on iOS and the Mac, and it’d be equally beneficial if it worked with the HomePod. I don’t know how technically feasible it is, but it would be awesome if I could ask Siri to play Linkin Park’s One More Light or tell me the score of the Giants game via a “text message” in lieu using my voice. Not all the time, but sometimes.

I hope so, but as with most things HomePod, we don’t know yet.