Touchscreen or Not Touchscreen, That Is the Question

Last week, Mark Gurman and Alex Webb wrote a piece for Bloomberg about Apple’s upcoming Siri speaker and whether it would have a screen of some kind:

Ahead of Apple’s launch, the competition has upgraded their speakers with support for making voice calls, while Amazon’s gained a touchscreen. Apple’s speaker won’t include such a screen, according to people who have seen the product.

After the HomePod was officially announced, John Gruber called Claim Chowder on their claim:

HomePod has a touchscreen on top.

Earlier this evening, Cabel Sasser tweeted a video of the HomePod that includes a close-up of the HomePod display with the following caption:

BTW, here’s the “screen” on the HomePod. I’d guess it’s RGB LEDs under a diffuser maybe? — ambient, not a display, but a cool “awake” vibe.

I posted a few tweets about this yesterday where I expressed skepticism that this could be considered a touchscreen, especially one that’s in some way comparable to that on Amazon’s Echo Show.

Whatever the display on the HomePod is, it does support touch controls (as stated on the product page but I’d argue it isn’t a screen. Given the context in which Mark and Alex compared the purported screen to the Echo Show, I think it’s fair to assume that whatever type of display the HomePod has it certainly isn’t something that’s supposed to clearly display text or make video calls. It does indeed have no such screen, though that doesn’t preclude it from having any sort of display surface.

There’s a lot we don’t know about HomePod and it’s still several months away from shipping, so a lot could change. It could very well be a fully-fledged touchscreen but, if it is, why does Apple not mention it in the tech specs? The only reference to the top of the speaker is:

Tap the top of HomePod to play, pause, or adjust the volume. The top also shows you when Siri is listening, with an LED waveform that animates with your every word.

I’m skeptical it is anything more than just an ambient light show. The ergonomics of a horizontal display would also be a terrible way of communicating information and it limits where it can be positioned. We’re still several months away from shipping, so things could change. However, based on the hardware that Apple demoed I don’t think Mark and Alex deserve the Claim Chowder as it doesn’t appear they were wrong.