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HomePod Mini: Did Apple just copy Google’s homework?

Sure, the headlines have all been about the brand new iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro series, and for good reason. That iPhone 12 Mini looks like it was specifically designed for me—I’m psyched to check it out. But, what also caught my eye was the adorable little HomePod Mini smart speaker.

If you’re even remotely familiar with smart home solutions, you probably already know the drill. This is a small smart speaker that’s designed to live in every nook and cranny of your home, give you access to a virtual assistant Siri, and also serve as a point for you to control all your IoT goodies. You know, kind of like a Google Home Mini. Very much like a Google Home Mini, actually. But, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

Let’s start with what Apple says the HomePod Mini can do. The thing that I’m probably most skeptical about is the “amazing sound”. Sure, small speakers can sound good, but until I actually hear it with my own two ears, I’ll probably remain skeptical. According to the tech giant, the HomePod Mini uses “computational audio”, powered by the Apple S5 chip, alongside the full range driver and force-cancelling passive radiators to produce what they call “amazing sound”.

It also has the larger HomePod’s Apple-designed acoustic waveguide to direct the flow of sound downward and outward towards the bottom of the speaker. This’ll give it a 360-degree sound that’s befitting of the speaker’s rounded design. On top of that, the HomePod Mini is smart enough to know that if you put two of them together in the same room, to covert the audio into a proper stereo setup.

Naturally, the smart speaker will also give users access to Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. With Siri, you an get HomePod Mini to do all sorts of smart speaker things like tell you the weather, give you personalised updates (calendar, reminders, etc.) as well as play music based on song titles or lyrics. What’s more, much like the Google Home Mini, HomePod Mini is smart enough to differentiate between the different voices in the household, so you won’t be getting other people’s personalised updates when you ask for it.

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HomePod Mini also works with your smart home accessories so you can tell it—or, rather, Siri—to turn off lights, lock doors, set a scene or any of the other smart home things you would do with some other smart speaker. Apple has also built an Intercom function into the HomePod Mini. With this, you can send voice messages or alert other HomePod speakers throughout your home much like you can with Google’s smart speakers. But, the cool thing here is that Apple’s Intercom will also work with iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, CarPlay and even AirPods—which is awesome.

And this subtle integration with the rest of Apple’s ecosystem continues with an update that will enhance seamless music handoff between iPhones and the HomePod Mini. Apparently, you’ll be able to get visual, audible and haptic effects when sound transfers from one device to another, which sounds fun.

Finally, there’s always the privacy concern. It’s a real concern, after all, these speakers are technically just microphones in your homes for tech giants like Google and Amazon to listen in on. Apple’s going big on privacy, like they often do, because HomePod Mini the Hey Siri commands will be recognised locally, and only requests made after the Siri has been activated will any information be set to Apple’s servers. On top of that, Apple claims that the information that gets sent will not be associated with a user’s Apple ID and any personal information will not be sold to advertisers or other organisations.

Apple appears to be keeping what is private to you private, and based on their track record, this is something you can probably expect.

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But now, I have to be the bearer of bad news because much like the larger HomePod, HomePod Mini will not be officially coming to Malaysia. Then again, priced at USD 99 (~RM411), the HomePod Mini isn’t going to be affordable. Right now, you can get a grey market Google Home Mini or Nest Mini for less than RM150 (Lazada, Shopee), and it’ll probably be able to do everything the HomePod Mini can. I guess the only thing that would really justify the price would be if the HomePod Mini truly did have “amazing sound”.

More on the HomePod Mini here.