Apple last week introduced the new HomePod mini, which is a more affordable alternative at $99/£99 to the full-size HomePod that’s been around since 2018. Although the mini will not match the original model for sound performance. On paper, the HomePod mini does offer much more from the U1 chip, Thread connectivity and enough power so it can be used a HomeKit hub.
In the absence of my full in-depth HomePod mini review. Here are my top 6 reasons I think the HomePod mini is worth buying for your HomeKit home.
Rumours have been circling for sometime about the HomePod mini, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted the $99 price tag. Which makes the HomePod mini a lot more affordable than the $299 HomePod. Which until now companies like Amazon and Google have run away with the smart speaker market with its cheaper alternatives. But I do want to be clear. The original HomePod was more than just a smart speaker, it is a full immersive sound experience. Plus, with Dolby Atmos and Home theatre support coming later this year. The original HomePod would always be my first choice for a true world class speaker device.
But that being said, the HomePod mini is a lot easier to justify spending $99 on a home speaker. Which will make it more appealing to those that are looking for Siri voice assistant support. Plus, given the price point, users should be able to justify buying multiple HomePod mini’s to be placed around the home.
Yes, I hear you saying that you can already pick up more affordable options such as the Echo dot. Granted, you can, and while we have not heard or used the HomePod mini. Once thing for sure, this is not going to $50 dollar device. Plus, if you are already in the Apple echo system and HomeKit, or planning on making that step. Then the HomePod mini will be the most affordable option to be the centre of your HomeKit home.
With HomePod mini Apple introduced a new Intercom feature that lets you send messages to and from the HomePod and other Apple devices. So if you have multiple HomePod mini throughout the home. Then it will make the intercom feature a lot more attractive and usable.
One person can send an Intercom message from one HomePod. Their voice will automatically play on the designated HomePod speaker, or all speakers, depending on the instruction given to Siri. Intercom messages will also appear on connected iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch and CarPlay. Additionally intercom messages will play through AirPods and allow the user to reply.
HomeKit and HKSV hub
Given that the HomePod mini is a device that is designed to be placed in multiple rooms or even hallways. The mini is going to be a great way to control HomeKit-connected devices by voice. For instance, if you have a HomePod mini in the bedroom, you will just have to say “Hey Siri, turn out the lights” and because the HomePod mini will know which room you have assigned it to, it will just turn out those lights.
The other benefit of the HomePod mini is you can use it as a HomeKit hub. Until now, if you wanted a HomeKit hub, then you needed to buy an Apple TV or a full size HomePod. Whereas the new HomePod mini makes investing in a HomeKit hub far more affordable than ever compared to the other options.
By using the HomePod mini has a HomeKit hub, then it can process advanced automations and allow remote access to your HomeKit accessories. In addition, it can connect Bluetooth and Tread enabled devices to your HomeKit setup, such as products like the Eve flare.
Another benefit of using a HomePod mini as a HomeKit hub. You can use it to enable HomeKit Secure Video with supported smart cameras. HomePod mini can analyse the feeds of your supported video cameras looking for presence of people, pets, and cars. All video processing is done right on device itself before it’s sent end-to-end encrypted to iCloud.
U1 and Ultra wideband
The HomePod mini contains one feature that the original HomePod lacks, the U1 chip. The Apple-designed U1 chip is an ultra-wideband chip which performs directional and proximity-based actions.
Later this year, Apple will deliver an update that will utilise the U1 Ultra wideband chip will enable a smoother Handoff experience. This will enable you to switch your music from phone to the HomePod mini seamlessly.
But I think Apple could take this one step further and use the U1 chip to act as UWB base station. This could track location of people in the home using an iPhone or Apple Watch that also has a U1 chip. It could allow users to interact with media controls, smart lighting, door locks and other HomeKit devices.
Taking it one step further, it could use automation rules for certain times of day, meaning it could trigger devices to act in a certain way. So in the evening, if you walked into the bedroom. The U1 chip could detect this and turn on the lights and set to warm colours. Whereas if you walked into the living room in a morning, it could raise the blinds and turn on the HomePod to your morning playlist or favorite radio station.
Although Apple didn’t mention this in the presentation. After looking deeper into the specs, the new HomePod mini includes thread wireless capabilities. Thread is an IPv6-based, low-power mesh networking technology for IoT products, intended to be secure and future-proof. The Connected Home over IP project (CHIP), have been working on a royalty-free standard to promote interoperability in home connectivity, leveraging Thread. So this could be the first sign that CHIP is making progress and thread could be part of that move forward.
So by buying the HomePod mini for your home, you are future proofing your HomeKit setup. Although at the moment thread enabled devices are still pretty much none existent. But when they hit the market, then your HomeKit home will be ready.
Stereo Pairing & AirPlay2
While the original HomePod will be get an update later this year to enable an immersive home theater experience when paired with an Apple TV 4K. Which will bring full 5.1, 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos. Users can still pair two HomePod mini’s as a stereo pair and work together to deliver left and right channels.
HomePod mini also supports AirPlay 2 multi-room capabilities, which means if you have multiple HomePod mini’s throughout your Home. The sound will play throughout the home in sync. Which will be handy if you are cleaning around the home and want your favourite Podcast to be heard throughout your Home. But don’t worry, each HomePod mini can also stream its own audio, so you don’t have to put up with your kids’ music.
Apple privacy as standard
We all value our privacy and in the new digital age, privacy for IoT devices should be number one priority. After all, connected devices like smart speakers are in our homes listening to what we say and sometimes collecting this data.
But with HomePod mini and the original HomePod, they only send information to Apple servers once Siri has been activated. Plus, information sent to Apple is not associated with the user’s Apple ID, nor is any personal information sold to any third party. To further protect user privacy, the personal request feature will only work if the user’s iPhone is within the home in which the HomePod mini is located.
Apple took us all by surprise when they announced the HomePod mini at the incredible price of $99. Yes, it’s not got the same audio quality as the original, but the full size HomePod is more than just a smart speaker. But Apple has packed the HomePod mini with the latest tech and innovation. Which gives us a glimpse of the route Apple is going with its HomeKit journey.
HomePod mini will be available in white and space gray for $99/£99. It will be available to customers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the US. Preorders of the HomePod mini beginning Friday, 6th November. Shipping will start week beginning the 16th November.