Then there were two. During their October 13 webcast, Apple doubled the size of its smart speaker line with the HomePod Mini, a 3.3-in. tall device that will sell for $99—a price that undercuts the original HomePod by $200. Sporting a compact, apple-sized spherical shape, it has a flat top with an embedded colorized touch surface for control gestures, similar to that of HomePod. And, of course, like its bigger sibling, HomePod Mini is powered by the Siri digital assistant, offers Apple HomeKit device support, and is available clothed in white or space grey fabric.
Apple Delays, Amazon and Google Advance
Apple launched the original HomePod on February 9, 2018—nearly three years ago—at a suggested retail of $349. Since then, connected home ecosystem competitors Amazon and Google have expanded their offerings with bigger and smaller speakers and smart displays. As a partial response, Apple dropped the original HomePod to $299, but that price point remains well above comparable Amazon and Google smart speakers. So, with HomePod Mini priced below $100, Apple intends to get a firmer foot in the game.
Amazon Echo 4th Generation Coming
Amazon is also keeping things interesting here by launching the fourth-generation Echo smart speaker on October 22, the smart speaker that started the Alexa generation. It is similarly spherical in shape like the HomePod Mini, and will sell for $99.99. And, the smaller Echo Dot gets a redesign at the same time, taking on the same spherical shape and coming in at $49.99.
Furthermore, Google Nest recently launched a replacement for its mainstream smart speaker, Google Home. In the form of Nest Audio, the $99.99 offering is priced $200 less than the original HomePod. The 2nd generation Nest Mini speaker, which is more comparable in size to the HomePod Mini, sells at $49.
Sounding off on HomePod Mini, New Features
In a press release following the webcast, Apple touted the audio credentials of its latest speaker. “HomePod mini is the ultimate smart speaker for anyone with an Apple device,” said said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “It works effortlessly with iPhone to hand off music, answer calls, or deliver personalized listening suggestions, elevates the sound from Apple TV, plays music from a Mac, and so much more.“
Among the new features on HomePod Mini are Multiuser, Intercom, and more music options beyond Apple Music. Let’s take a look at them.
On the subject of personal experience, among the new features integrated on HomePod Mini is multiuser. When set up, a HomePod can recognize multiple voices and then tailor experiences to various family members. HomePod multiuser was released on January 2020 and also works with the original HomePod. It relies on Apple IDs and iCloud to work.
Another new feature announced with HomePod Mini was Intercom, a quick way for family members to communicate when there is more than one HomePod installed in the home. For example, a voice command such as “Hey Siri, tell everyone, our Uber is here” could be used to call the family to gather for an Uber ride by broadcasting an audio message from one HomePod to other HomePods.
Apple says Intercom also works with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and CarPlay, for both sending and receiving Intercom messages. But you can’t use it yet, since it depends on the yet-to-be-released iOS 14.2, watchOS 7.2, and HomePod 14.2 versions. It will be configured from the Apple Home app.
Music Beyond Apple Music
Finally, Apple has started to inch closer to multi-room audio leader Sonos by adding more music sources. In addition to Apple Music, podcasts, radio stations from iHeartRadio, radio.com, and TuneIn, Apple will also offer access to Pandora and Amazon Music on HomePod.
Behind the Fabric
Apple has incorporated what they call computational audio into HomePod Mini, achieved through the new S5 chip and advanced software algorithms. Inside the fabric-encased sphere, they have an in-house designed full-range driver, which is powered by a neodymium magnet. Furthermore, a pair of force-cancelling passive radiators deliver on deep bass and high frequencies. Altogether, these components give a 360-degree audio experience.
For processing voice commands, a three-microphone array listens for incoming “Hey Siri” commands while a fourth inward-facing microphone isolates sound coming from the speaker to improve voice detection when music is playing.
Also part of the package are the ability for HomePod Mini to function by default as an Apple HomeKit Home Hub, Siri shortcuts, ambient sounds (including rain, fireplace, stream, white noise, and more), Find My, Web search, and music alarms.
HomePod mini will be available for pre-order beginning on November 5, 2020, in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the US. Deliveries are set to begin on November 16, 2020.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.