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Apple enters the “mini” smart speaker market

The new Apple HomePod Mini features impressive audio technology in a small form factor and a much lower price tag than the original HomePod.

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Apple this week unveiled the HomePod Mini, the newest addition to the HomePod family, expanding a compact smart speaker market that includes the likes of the Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo. At 3.3-inches tall, it features enables what Apple calls “computational audio”, meaning it will adjust audio quality to where it’s placed. 

Apple says it delivers an incredibly rich and detailed acoustic experience. To achieve big sound out of the compact design, the Apple S5 chip in the HomePod Mini works with advanced software to analyse the various characteristics of the music, and applies complex tuning models to optimise loudness, adjust the dynamic range, and control the movement of the driver and passive radiators in real time.  

itfeatures an Apple-designed acoustic waveguide to direct the flow of sound down and out toward the bottom of the speaker for a 360-degree audio experience. This allows users to place the device almost anywhere in a room and hear consistent sound. A three-microphone array listens for “Hey Siri,” and a fourth inward-facing microphone helps isolate sound coming from the speaker to improve voice detection when music is playing.  

With the intelligence of Siri, the smart speaker delivers a personalised and deeply integrated experience for iPhone customers, as one would expect from a device in the Apple ecosystem. Siri can identify who is speaking and tailor music and podcasts to their preferences, and respond to personal requests, like accessing messages, reminders, notes, and calendar appointments, or making and answering phone calls.  

Apple says that only after “Hey Siri” is recognised locally on the device, or the user activates Siri by touch, will any information be sent to Apple servers. Requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID, and personal information is not sold to advertisers or other organisations. This is the main selling point for the HomePod, since other smart speaker equivalents from Google and Amazon use voice requests to target ads at users across other devices. 

The HomePod Mini works with Apple devices, making it possible to pick up an incoming call, control music on a Mac, or upgrade the TV experience by outputting sound from the Apple TV. When listening to music on iPhone, users can bring their device close to the Mini and hand off the music without missing a beat.  

It makes controlling smart home accessories possible with voice commands for Siri to turn off the lights, change the temperature, lock the doors, or do all actions at once with a scene. The HomePod Mini is designed to work with Apple Music, podcasts, radio stations from iHeartRadio, radio.com, and TuneIn, and in the coming months, popular music services including Pandora and Amazon Music. 

Spotify is, yet again, glaringly snubbed from the app roster. In a pre-emptive move, last month Spotify offered Google’s small smart speaker equivalent to US and UK Premium users for free. 

The HomePod Mini will be available in the US later this year in white and space gray for $99

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