Image Source: Apple

HomePod mini, Apple’s reattempt at the smart home market

A little, too late?

As a concept, the Apple HomePod mini is a fine time tested reasonable idea and as a product it will probably also be just as fine. But in terms of timeing, is it late to the party in a section of smart homes that have been inundated with products from Google, Amazon and Sonos?

Image Source: Apple

In any case, Apple has introduced the HomePod mini, the newest addition to the HomePod family that brings with it the Apple AI called Siri to get things you would expect to be done after a Hey Google or Alexa command but within the Apple ecosystem.

At just under 8.5 centimetres tall, it will be available in white and space grey at a price of around $150 AUD. With sights set on taking on the Google Nest Mini (currently $79 AUD, JB Hi-Fi currently has a Mini + Chromecast bundle for $89 AUD) and the Amazon Echo Dot ($79 AUD, 3rd Gen was also $79 AUD or $34 AUD if you take advantage of Prime Day today) it might be a hard sell to anyone not strictly Apple… especially now with belts being tightened due to COVID-19.

“HomePod mini is the ultimate smart speaker for anyone with an Apple device. It works effortlessly with iPhone to hand off music, answer calls, or deliver personalised listening suggestions, elevates the sound from Apple TV, plays music from a Mac, and so much more. There’s a lot of Apple innovation packed into such a small speaker, all at an affordable price.”
– Bob Borchers. Vice President of Apple Worldwide Product Marketing

HomePod mini was designed to work with Apple Music but it will be interesting to know how well it plays nice with competing stream services. It will of course play iTunes podcasts, and they will let you stream radio stations from iHeartRadio and TuneIn. Multiple HomePod mini speakers have the capabilities to work together to stream music or podcasts to multiple rooms all in sync. It is claimed that placing two HomePod mini speakers in a single room, a stereo pair can be created for a wider soundstage.

Sound quality is subjective so it’s worth you visiting an Apple Store or reseller in person to experience it for yourself but for now here is the promise from Apple at least: The Apple-engineered full-range driver, powered by a neodymium magnet and a pair of force-cancelling passive radiators, enables deep bass and crisp high frequencies. It will use the Apple S5 chip in the HomePod mini to work with advanced software to analyse the unique characteristics of the music and apply complex tuning models to optimise loudness, adjust the dynamic range, and control the movement of the driver and passive radiators in real time. Again though, it is recommended to try before you buy.

That covers the speaker part of this smart speaker, how about the smarts.

Well it’s an Apple device so of course Siri is coming along for the ride. Siri offers users a personal update for a quick snapshot of their day. With a single request, users can ask Siri “What’s my update?” to hear the latest news, weather, traffic, reminders, and calendar appointments.

It is mostly just going to work with Apple and ‘HomePod compatible’ devices. Handoff features will include the ability to pick up an incoming call, listen to music stored in a Mac, or upgrade the TV experience by taking the sound from Apple TV. When listening to music on iPhone, customers can bring their device close to HomePod mini and hand off the music if you wish to continue your commute playlist at home.

In addition to this you can use Siri to turn off the lights, change the temperature, lock the doors, or set a scene (not to be confused with making a scene and demanding to see a poor retail assistants manager).

A new-to-Apple Intercom feature offers a quick and easy way for family members to connect with each other at home. One person can send an Intercom message from one HomePod to another whether in a different room, a specific zone, or multiple rooms throughout the home – much like the Google Broadcast feature on Google Nest speakers. Intercom works with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, and CarPlay, making this more of an iOS Siri update in general.

For the environmentally conscious, HomePod mini uses 99% recycled rare earth elements, with the neodymium magnet in the speaker driver utilising 100% recycled rare earth elements. The seamless mesh fabric is made with more than 90% recycled plastic, and all of the packaging wood fibres are from responsibly managed forests or recycled sources. HomePod mini is also free of mercury, brominated flame retardants, PVC, and beryllium.

Customers in Australia can grab themselves one for $149 AUD including GST. For others outside this region, your pricing will likely vary. Those in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the US are able to order HomePod mini beginning at Midnight AEDT on Saturday, 7 November 2020, with availability beginning the week of 16 November 2020. HomePod mini will be available in China, Mexico, and Taiwan later this year. HomePod mini is compatible with iPhone SE, iPhone 6s or later, or iPod touch (7th generation) running iOS 14; or iPad Pro, iPad (5th generation or later), iPad Air 2 or later, or iPad mini 4 or later running iPadOS 14.