The HomePod was discontinued after just three years on the market, but Apple isn’t giving up on its smart speaker ambitions. Released in 2020 along with the iPhone 12, the HomePod mini was intended to be a smaller alternative to Apple’s expensive high-fidelity speaker, but now it’s the only game in town. And if you want to set up a Siri-based smart home, that’s essential.
The latest news and rumours
An August report by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says Apple is working on a few new smart devices, but he didn’t say anything about the HomePod mini. Apple may release a new full-size HomePod before 2023, as well as a speaker with an iPad-like screen and an Apple TV with a camera, both for 2024.
Size and design
The HomePod mini still has the mesh grille exterior, available in space gray or white, but has a completely different shape than the HomePod. It’s a sphere rather than a cylinder, and its appearance is somewhat reminiscent of the mesh-covered apples you might find in the supermarket and isn’t much bigger. The HomePod mini measures 3.3 inches tall, less than half the height of the HomePod, but it feels even smaller than the one in person. The whole top is a display, but it’s mainly for Siri and status lights and can be hard to see from across the room. Like the original HomePod, the mini’s cord is permanently attached and somewhat inflexible, but wherever you put your HomePod mini, it’s sure to be a statement piece.
Speakers and Microphones
While it may look small and without power, the HomePod mini is actually just as capable as the larger model, while its size means it has fewer speakers and microphones than the larger model. As Apple describes, the HomePod mini has a “full-range driver, powered by a neodymium magnet and a pair of force-cancelling passive radiators,” but the sound isn’t nearly as deep as the larger HomePod. It mainly lacks bass, which was the strongest suit of the original HomePod, but the mini is still plenty powerful enough to fill a room with sound, especially if you pick up a few and set them up as stereo speakers on an iOS device or Apple TV.
Since the HomePod mini is a Siri device, it has three microphones that always listen for voice prompts, as well as an internal microphone to isolate the sound from the speaker so that it can hear the “Hey Siri” command even while playing a song. music. Apple uses the S5 chip to process the sound, the same processor in the Apple Watch SE.
Even with a pair of speakers, however, the HomePod mini doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital 7.1, or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound like the larger HomePod.
Apple Music and other streaming services
The HomePod mini’s greatest strength is its music playback, and if you’re an Apple Music subscriber, it’s an excellent companion. It also works well with the Apple Podcasts app and radio stations from iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn. During the HomePod mini announcement, Apple teased support for third-party music services, but so far only Pandora is supported. The Google Home and Amazon Echo both support Amazon Music and Spotify, so it goes without saying that more services are on the way.
Like the full-size HomePod, HomePod mini relies on Siri as its main interface, using voice commands to play music and podcasts, control smart home devices, and answer general knowledge questions. You can also use Siri for personal updates, such as questions about your schedule, weather, traffic, and reminders, as well as any Siri shortcuts created on your iPhone or iPad.
Apple continues to protect your privacy while using Siri. Siri requests are only sent to Apple’s servers when Siri is activated, and those requests are not associated with your Apple ID. Apple also says it does not sell your personal information to third parties. However, it does store some anonymous audio recordings to improve Siri’s accuracy, but you can opt out from the Privacy tab in Settings on your iPhone. You can also delete your entire Siri history in the same tab.
Apple lets you set up a device as a home hub to remotely control HomeKit devices from a central location, and the HomePod mini is the most economical of the options. And the great thing is that you don’t actually have to do anything to set it up. Once you sign in to your iCloud account, your HomePod mini is automatically set up as a home hub, so anything you add to the Home app can be controlled when you’re not there. You can also create scenes and automations based on time or location that do things like turn the lights on when you get home or turn them off with a simple command.
In addition to playing music and calling Siri, HomePod has a handy intercom feature that lets you send and receive messages from one HomePod mini to another, or an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch, and CarPlay-connected car. When you ask Siri to “Intercom” or “Ask everyone”, it will display an alert on all available devices with Intercom enabled and provide an audio recording that can be played back. Oddly enough, the Mac is not part of the intercom feature.
U1 Ultra-wideband chip
The HomePod mini has Apple’s U1 chip, which provides the device with ultra-wideband, a radio communication technology that consumes very little power, operates in a short range and has a high bandwidth. The U1 also enables some cool iPhone tricks. You can “transfer” music playback from your iPhone to the new HomePod, and receive pop-up media controls without unlocking your iPhone. You can also get personalized listening suggestions, as well as visual, audible and haptic effects when transferring sound between devices.
But Apple probably has much bigger plans for the U1 chip. It could create an API that allows smart device makers to leverage the U1 chip and create automations and interactions that don’t require an app to be installed. Or it can use Siri Shortcuts to generate room-based responses and actions from HomeKit devices without summoning Siri to take action. There’s a lot Apple can do with the HomePod mini’s U1 chip, so we’ll have to wait and see what comes in future updates.
To use these features, however, you’ll need devices equipped with the U1, according to Apple’s HomePod mini website. That means you need an iPhone 11 or newer. Older iPhones cannot perform these functions.
Price, availability and device compatibility
The HomePod mini costs $99 USD and is available in space gray, white, blue, yellow and orange.
HomePod mini is compatible with the following devices:
iPhone 6s or later
iPod touch (7th generation) with iOS 14
iPad Pro, iPad (5th generation or later)
iPad Air 2 or later
iPad mini 4 or later with iPadOS 14
If you want to set up an Apple smart home, there are three options for a hub: an iPad, Apple TV and HomePod mini. At $99, the HomePod mini is the most economical of the bunch and it’s a smart speaker, so you can ask it to perform actions and routines just like an Amazon Echo device. HomeKit devices are getting cheaper and more common, so setting up an Apple smart home is easier than ever, especially with a HomePod mini to control everything. It doesn’t sound as good as the original HomePod, but it’s still better than an Echo Dot, and at $99 it’s a must-have device.