New HomePod mini shows Apple is getting serious about smart speakers
At its hardware launch event today – where we also saw new iPhone 12 handsets – Apple introduced the HomePod mini, a smaller and more affordable follow-up to the first HomePod that launched back in 2017.
It does everything you would expect a smart speaker to do, from answering your questions about the weather forecast to playing your music, but there are a few extra touches that help make it a serious challenger to the Sonos, Amazon Echo and Google Nest speakers.
As with those alternatives, audio can be synced across multiple HomePod minis in multiple rooms, for example, and they can be set up in pairs as stereo speakers. Apple is of course promising top-quality audio, powered by an Apple S5 chip, but we'll have to hear it for ourselves before passing judgment.
Apple has matched Google and Amazon by putting personalized voice recognition and multi-user technology inside the HomePod mini – so the kids can listen to their music and the parents can listen to theirs, for example – as well as introducing a daily briefing feature (including calendar reminders and news) that other speakers also offer.
Using a feature called Intercom, you can broadcast a message to all the HomePod mini speakers in a house – if you need to call everyone down for dinner, for example. Again, we've seen this before on other smart speakers, but its inclusion shows that Apple is pushing hard to catch up.
As you would expect, it's in its integration with other Apple devices where the HomePod mini really shines. You're able to transfer audio easily from MacBooks, Apple TVs and iPhones, for example, and the Intercom feature works with these devices too if you need to be more precise with your announcements.
The speaker is also fitted with an Ultra Wideband chip, which means it can better communicate with other smart home devices, and better track the location of other devices with the same U1 chip inside them (like the newer iPhone models). From what we can tell from the details released so far, there are still a few feature gaps, including support for Bluetooth connections and Spotify streaming.
It looks like a cute, dinky device – it stands 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) tall – and there's a colorful, touch-sensitive control panel on the top that you can use to adjust the volume and pause and play audio streams if you don't feel like talking.
Available in white or space grey, the speaker will set you back just US$99 – no doubt a nod to how cheap the rival speakers from Amazon and Google are getting – and preorders start on November 6, with shipping on November 16.
Product page: Apple HomePod mini