There have been rumors that Apple will release a half-size version of the HomePod for a long time, but I never had any interest in them. I bought the original HomePod to use as a speaker, so I wasn’t severely disappointed with its shortcomings as an intelligent assistant. I was critical that Apple didn’t use the device as motivation to dig into the problems and make using Siri a better experience, but it didn’t really mar my use of the device.
I still don’t regret buying the HomePod because I don’t have a stereo in my house and didn’t have any other good room audio. Everything I had before it was geared toward portability or personal listening. While $349 (the HomePod now retails for $299 and is often available as low as $199) was a pretty high price, I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of it.
My issue with the past rumors of a HomePod Mini were based on the original price of the original HomePod and its struggles as an intelligent assistant and home automation hub. Based on that, a smaller version didn’t seem like a great idea or a big seller. Assuming a price of around $200, what would be the point? That’s a LOT more expensive than better intelligent assistant hardware from Google and Amazon and wouldn’t have the same sound quality as the original HomePod.
However, the recent rumors that the coming HomePod Mini could be priced at $99 flips that script for me. First off, I just didn’t expect Apple to go that low for a quality speaker. If the Mini retains solid sound quality, then $99 seems like a very competitive price to me.
The second reason I see the rumored Mini differently today is home automation. Apple is admittedly far behind Amazon and Google in this market. However, they have gotten more aggressive about lowering the barrier to entry for accessory manufacturers. They have removed the requirement for an authentication and security chip and open-sourced some of their HomeKit platform over the last couple of years to help spur adoption. Apple is making it much easier for manufacturers to make their new hardware that’s already compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home also work with HomeKit.
Wider availability of HomeKit gear will give Apple users who are focused on privacy a reason to give their home automation platform a shot. A less expensive HomePod Mini that Apple users can afford to buy more of to put around their houses should also help the company bolster interest in HomeKit. This has been missing from Apple’s hardware lineup and it could fill an interesting roll in their home automation plans going forward.
The HomePod Mini is also supposed to include Apple’s new U1 Ultra Wide Band chip. According to Jon Prosser, this new HomePod Mini will be the first of Apple’s hubs to make use of this technology in the home.
As I mentioned before, UWB (integrated with the U1 chip) is the next big standard for Apple. It’s just as important as wifi and bluetooth.
Not only is it incredibly accurate for location tracking, but it’s also super fast for data transfer.
Below is my tweet from last month 👇 https://t.co/ldoTWeRrfS
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) October 9, 2020
What will Apple do with UWB beyond ultra-accurate location tracking in the home? I’m not completely sure, to be honest. What I do know is that the HomePod Mini is priced to move faster and get this new tech into more Apple users’ homes.
The main thread that runs through all of my thoughts on the HomePod Mini is still the price. If the predicted $99 tag turns out to be true, and I believe that it is based on the number of times its been repeated, then it is a smart move for Apple. It’s late, but I’m not sure Apple could have hit this price two years ago when they needed it and the device wouldn’t have been quite as compelling it looks today.
All I know is I now have yet another Apple device to keep an eye on and try out after release. A month ago I was ignoring the rumors of this or a HomePod 2 coming this year. The right combo of price and features has a way of changing things.