Were we surprised that Apple announced a HomePod Mini today? Absolutely not. The stream of leaks suggesting Apple had planned a HomePod refresh has been steady and strong—hell we even had a last-minute leak this morning. And as suspected, the HomePod Mini made its official debut at today’s iPhone event—and it’s only $100.
That $100 price tag is a pretty big deal. Google’s Nest Audio speaker, which was announced just a couple weeks ago, is also $100. So no, while the HomePod Mini may not be as cheap as a $50 Nest Mini or an Echo Dot, it’s much more competitively priced than the OG HomePod.
The HomePod Mini for starters is a cute, little round boy. From what we could tell from the event, it doesn’t have quite as many drivers as the original HomePod, but Apple is promising that it’s still got “incredible sound for the size.” The Mini is also likely round because compressing the size meant needing to get a little creative with the acoustics—something Apple is calling computational audio.
Under the hood, it’s also powered by the S5 chip—the same as the Apple Watch SE and the Series 5—instead of the A8 chip. There’s another backlit touch surface, and yes, they’re keeping the fabric cover too. Like Sonos speakers, the HomePod Minis will play well with others. Two speakers in the same room will automatically transmit in stereo, for instance.
One of the more interesting inclusions with the HomePod Mini is the U1 chip, which adds Ultra Wideband capabilities. This chip isn’t in every Apple product—it was left out of this year’s iPad Pro and the Watch SE, though Apple did include it in the Series 6. But today, that U1 chip makes a bit more sense as the HomePod Mini (and the new Apple TV) can now act as ultra wideband hubs. That means the HomePod mini will be able to more precisely track your location, so long as you have another device with a U1 chip. It also beefs up the HomePod mini’s capabilities for the smart home, as it automatically works with the Home app. That includes gadgets like smart thermostats and setting scenes. This isn’t new, though Apple did emphasize there’ll be an easier way of discovering devices. If you bring your phone close to the HomePod Mini, you’ll also get some haptics and visual effects.
So far, the hardware updates to the HomePod Mini and the reduced price are pretty compelling. However, as well all know, hi-fi audio is only one part of the equation with smart speakers. There’s no easy way of putting this, but Siri is a goddamn trash bag of a digital assistant—and Siri was even worse on the HomePod itself. This time around though, Apple is promising some upgrades for the world’s worst virtual assistant. At the event, Apple said the HomePod Mini will interact better with your iPhone, and therefore get better updates via requests like, “Hey Siri, what’s my personal update?” Apple also says that Siri can recognize the individual voices of your housemates—hopefully, so that she never again asks someone “Who dis?” There’ll also be better integrations with CarPlay. Likewise, the HomePod Mini can work as an intercom. Alexa devices can already do this, but the benefit here is that it’ll also work with other devices including your AirPods, iPhones, and Apple Watches. Of course, it looked impressive on stage but seeing as this was a virtual event, we’ll have to wait until we have a HomePod Mini in our hands to test it out for ourselves. That said, many of the updates felt like Apple catching up to other digital assistants rather than pushing the space forward.
Smart speakers always give people the heebie jeebies with privacy. Apple says personal requests will only work when your iPhone is home with you and that everything is encrypted.
It’s clear that despite a meh reaction to the original HomePod, Apple’s not giving up on the whole smart home and smart speaker category. However, there are a few things that still might get in the way of that. For starters, there’s no Spotify, even though you can get some services like Pandora, Amazon Music, and iHeart Radio. And while the slick handoff features look cool, will it Bluetooth? We’ll have to see.
Again, we’ll have to try it out for ourselves before we can hand down a verdict. That said, if Siri doesn’t deter you, then the HomePod Mini will be available in white and gray. Preorders start November 6 and will ship the week of November 16.