Apple is once again trying to build a smart home speaker with the new HomePod mini, a smaller and less expensive version of the original HomePod.
The original HomePod was a product that focused more on being a good speaker, instead of being a great smart speaker. HomePod mini takes the opposite approach: it’s not just another way for Apple to put Apple Music or Siri into your home. It’s a way for Apple to expand its HomeKit ecosystem to a much wider audience than ever before.
Sure, the HomePod mini will probably sound good – given that it’s a $ 99 speaker that goes up against the likes of the new Nest Audio and fourth generation Echo, it must. And having more opportunities to push their subscription services to customers is a good advantage for Apple. But the real potential lies in serving as the cheapest gateway to Apple’s smart home setup.
HomeKit is not a new part of Apple’s software setup – the company has been offering the smart home platform since 2014, and there is a wide list of products that work with it today (although it is not as popular among device manufacturers as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant) .
But to actually take full advantage of HomeKit, you don’t just need the right smart light bulb or Wi-Fi thermostat. You also need a HomePod, an Apple TV or an iPad to act as a “home hub”. Having a hub greatly expands what HomeKit can do, allowing you to control your smart home devices when you’re not directly connected to the Wi-Fi network, invite guests to use smart home accessories in your home, and most importantly , create automated routines.
And for $ 99, the HomePod mini has considered the entry barrier significantly to access these features, which previously required a $ 179 Apple TV 4K, $ 299 HomePod or $ 329 iPad. Not only that, it also makes the use of these HomeKit features more accessible by adding an always-on microphone that can respond to smart home requests, at a third of the price of Apple’s previous option. For the price of a HomePod, you can cover most of your home with HomePod mini speakers (Apple’s most important new feature, Intercom, is practically designed for that scenario).
And there are many compelling reasons to want to use Apple’s smart home layout over Google’s or Amazon’s options. If you’re already an Apple user, HomeKit accessories integrate into iOS on a natural level, so you can access your lights or air conditioner directly from the iPhone Control Center menu, like turning Wi-Fi on and off or Bluetooth.
So are device manufacturers required to integrate their products into the Home app. Whether you like it or hate it, the app works as a single place for all your products, meaning you do not have to deal with a third-party app, which means your hardware – at least in theory – can still work even if the company that makes it stops supporting its own app.
There is also the security aspect: Apple is extremely careful when it comes to giving its HomeKit approval mark, even after removing the requirement for physical hardware authentication. It still evaluates devices and requires them to undergo an Apple-designed series of tests as part of the certification process before they are allowed to work with HomeKit.
This is not to say that Apple is of course exempt from privacy concerns with regard to its smart speakers. It was found that the company had problems with human entrepreneurs listening to Siri recordings only last year (along with Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft). However, Apple has since corrected these issues by introducing new, more secure guidelines and changing Siri’s default behavior so that it will only save recordings unless a user specifically chooses.
HomeKit puts even more of your daily technology into Apple’s ecosystem, which’s a big win for Apple. That’s because Apple depends on how well all the products work together as an important selling point – the company’s basic pitch for years has been “the more Apple products you have, the better they all work.” And by getting more users on board with HomeKit, Apple is able to extend this ecosystem not just to your computer or phone or tablet, but throughout the house. It is without a doubt more sticky than even your phone – when your entire home is committed to a specific platform, switching to something else is both stressful, expensive and time consuming.
The HomePod mini is not as good of a speaker as the HomePod. But it may just be the smart speaker that Apple needs to turn HomeKit from a hobby into a hit.