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We’ve been hearing for a while that Apple would finally let users choose their own default apps, and although many noted that iOS 14 will let users change mail and browser defaults, one of the announcements that’s flown a bit more under the radar since last month’s WWDC is that Apple is also expanding this concept to the HomePod, which will finally be opened up to allowing other music services to be played beyond just Apple Music.
To be clear, it’s always been possible to play just about anything you want through your HomePod — if you were streaming it from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac using AirPlay 2. However, for true hands-free operation, you’ve been stuck with using Apple’s own Apple Music service — a move that has been one of Spotify’s many complaints against Apple and a matter of concern for antitrust watchdogs, ranging from the European Commission to even Canadian telecom regulators.
Although Apple did open up Siri to third-party music services last year in iOS 13, which Spotify was fairly quick to take advantage of, this didn’t extend to the HomePod, and it never replaced Apple Music as the default choice. In other words, simply asking Siri to “play” a song would try and pick it from Apple Music, even if the user wasn’t a subscriber; those who wanted to access Spotify had to add that as a qualifier (e.g. “Hey Siri, Play this using Spotify.”)
Third-Party Services as First-Class Citizens
Now in iOS 14, however, it looks like Apple is taking this a big step further with the HomePod, not only adding the ability to play music from Spotify (and other services) via Siri, but it will actually let users make other services the default music app.
According to MacRumors, the code for this is already in the second beta of the HomePod software, which has been released to a selection of “AppleSeed” testers — an invitation-only beta program that Apple runs for select users. It arrived today alongside the second developer beta of iOS 14, which now shows an additional option for “Primary Service” in the Home app that’s used to configure the HomePod.
The description for the setting right now says “Choose which service will be used for music, podcasts, and audiobooks” which suggests that users may only be able to pick one service to handle all three, but of course this might change by the time the new HomePod software ships to the public.
At this point, it’s not actually possible to select any third-party music services — tapping the option shows a menu that includes only Apple Music — but this is likely because developers will need to add support for the feature, either in the form of updates in their iOS apps or back-end changes to their services.
It’s a bit unclear which services will ultimately be supported, or whether users will be able to designate different services for music, podcasts, and audiobooks, for example, choosing to have the HomePod pull up music from Spotify and audiobooks from Audible, for example.
It also looks like whatever option is set here will become the default for all “play” requests issued to Siri; whether users will be able to select other services by adding qualifiers, as they can with Siri on the iPhone is still an open question.