Posts tagged with "homepod"

Two Months with the HomePod mini: More Than Meets the Eye

As a smaller, affordable smart speaker tightly integrated with Apple services, the HomePod mini is a compelling product for many people. The mini is little enough to work just about anywhere in most homes. At $99, the device’s price tag also fits more budgets and makes multiple HomePod minis a far more realistic option than multiple original HomePods ever were. Of course, the mini comes with tradeoffs compared to its larger, more expensive sibling, which I’ll get into, but for many people, it’s a terrific alternative.

As compelling as the HomePod mini is as a speaker, though, its potential as a smart device reaches beyond the original HomePod in ways that have far greater implications for Apple’s place in customers’ homes. Part of the story is the mini’s ability to serve as a border router for Thread-compatible smart devices, forming a low-power, mesh network that can operate independently of your Wi-Fi setup. The other part of the story is the way the mini extends Siri throughout your home. Apple’s smart assistant still has room to improve. However, the promise of a ubiquitous audio interface to Apple services, apps, HomeKit devices, and the Internet is more compelling than ever as Siri-enabled devices proliferate.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been testing a pair of HomePod minis that Apple sent me. That pair joined my original HomePods and another pair of minis that I added to the setup to get a sense of what having a whole-home audio system with Siri always within earshot would be like. The result is a more flexible system that outshines its individual parts and should improve over time as the HomeKit device market evolves.

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HomePod mini Review Roundup

Several reviews of Apple’s new HomePod mini were published today. The mini, which I covered following Apple’s October event, is considerably smaller and less expensive than the original HomePod. Although we learned a lot about the mini in October, today’s reviews are the first to judge the sound quality of the mini.

Marques Brownlee was impressed with the quality of the HomePod mini’s audio for such a small speaker. Brownlee points out that there are less expensive smart speakers available, ones that support more smart home products, and smart assistants that he thinks are better. However, for a seamless, integrated experience with Apple’s products and great sound, he concludes the HomePod mini is a good choice.

At The Verge, Dan Seifert takes the HomePod mini through its paces too. He concludes:

At $100, compared to the original HomePod’s $350 launch price, the mini is priced low enough that you can envision buying more than one and spreading them throughout your home. It does most of the things you expect a smart speaker to do and sounds good when doing them. If you’re already fully bought into Apple’s ecosystem, including services, it’s hard to fault the HomePod mini’s price or capabilities. It also provides an escape from some of the privacy concerns and baggage that come with the Echo or Nest smart speakers, including the increasingly common ads that show up in Alexa’s responses.

However, Seifert also feels that Apple’s HomePod mini is behind the offerings available from Amazon and Google both in terms of smarts and sound quality.

Engadget’s Nathan Ingraham has a similar, although slightly more positive, takeaway:

The HomePod mini is a lot easier to recommend than the original was back in 2018. It’s significantly cheaper than the first HomePod, which automatically means more people will consider it. And it’s also a lot more capable than the original was in 2018, with more of the features you’d expect from a smart speaker. And, like the Nest Audio, it sounds very good for the price, making it a solid value for $100.

Brian Heater at TechCrunch concludes that the HomePod mini is a surprisingly good speaker for the price and size, noting about the audio:

It’s full and clear and impressively powerful for its size. Obviously that goes double if you opt for a stereo pair. Pairing is painless, out of the box. Just set up two devices for the same room of your home and it will ask you whether you want to pair them.

Jim Dalrymple at The Loop came away impressed after testing the HomePod mini, both in terms of its sound quality and ability to handle Siri requests:

I love the HomePod mini. It’s useful in accessing my personal information like lists, notes, and calendars, and it allows me the flexibility to play music wherever I want.

The sound quality of the music is really good for such a small speaker—or any speaker. HomePod mini fits almost anywhere you want to put it, and it looks great.

For more unboxing and hands-on videos, there are also videos available from Justine Ezarik:

and Rene Ritchie:

After reading and watching these reviews, I remain excited to try the HomePod mini. I have a bunch of HomeKit devices and have enjoyed the convenience of using Siri with the original HomePod, but it was too expensive to add them to every room in my house and also more speaker than necessary for many rooms. My hope is that the mini will fill in those gaps extending music to more of our home and bringing Siri into earshot in more circumstances.


Switching Your Default HomePod Music Service to Pandora

Yesterday, Pandora updated its iOS app, allowing it to serve as your default music streaming service on the HomePod. The setup isn’t entirely obvious, but it’s not difficult either, and it’s available in iOS and iPadOS 14.1 and 14.2. Here’s how it works.

Apple first revealed that the HomePod would support third-party music streaming services at WWDC without any explanation of how that would work. However, with the release of Pandora’s update, we now know that the process involves a combination of the third-party app’s settings and Apple’s Home app.

Other third-party music services are sure to follow Pandora’s lead, so even if you’re not a Pandora user, it’s instructive to see how it has implemented HomePod integration. In the Pandora app, tap on the Profile tab, select the gear icon in the top, righthand corner of the screen, and then tap ‘Connect to HomePod’ and then ‘Use in Home’ when prompted. Once you complete these steps, you can ask Siri to play music ‘on Pandora’ from your HomePod.

Tap 'Use in Home' to add Pandora as a HomePod playback option.

Tap ‘Use in Home’ to add Pandora as a HomePod playback option.

If you want to take things a step further, you can make Pandora your default music service in the Home app. Open Home, and go to Home Settings, which you can reach by tapping the house button at the top of your iPhone or iPad’s screen. Next, tap your profile picture. Here, you’ll see your personal Home settings. If you set things up correctly in Pandora, it will be listed under the Media section of your Home Settings. Tapping on the Pandora entry allows you to toggle Update Listening History on or off and remove Pandora from the Home app. If you have multiple people assigned to your home, only the primary user can manage music streaming services.

Setting up Pandora as my default music streaming service. Note that a bug in iOS 14.2 fails to display app icons properly at times.

Setting up Pandora as my default music streaming service. Note that a bug in iOS 14.2 fails to display app icons properly at times.

To set Pandora as your HomePod’s default music streaming service, tap ‘Preferred Service,’ which is directly below the Media section.1 Here, you’ll find a list of each service available to be set as your default. Pick Pandora, close Home Settings, and you’re finished. Instead of having to request that Siri play music ‘on Pandora,’ all requests to play music will play using Pandora’s service unless you specify a different service. Once Pandora has been added to Home, it remains available on your HomPod, even after its app is deleted from all your devices.

Apple Music and other services will still be available from your HomePod after you switch default services. However, you’ll have to specify the playback service you want to use, even if you’re asking Siri to play a playlist specific to Apple Music or one you created in your Apple Music library. For example, with Pandora set as your default service, to switch to Apple Music, you need to use a command like “Hey Siri, play Taylor Swift on Apple Music.’

Using Pandora as my default music streaming service for my HomePods.

Using Pandora as my default music streaming service for my HomePods.

Switching to a different music streaming provider worked seamlessly in my testing. Unfortunately, it’s not immediately obvious where to go to find the settings to switch services in the Home app. I suspect a lot of users will look in their HomePod’s settings or the top level of Home Settings, where you go to manage hubs and other categories of HomeKit devices. Still, once you know where to look, the process is simple and a welcome alternative for users who prefer different music streaming services.


  1. In iOS and iPadOS 14.2, the Home app uses the terminology ‘Default Service’ instead of ‘Preferred Service.’ ↩︎

Hands-On with the HomePod’s New Intercom Feature, Alarms, and Siri Tricks

With yesterday’s releases of iOS 14.1 and HomePod Software Version 14.1, which could really use a catchier name, Apple has introduced several new features announced last week at its iPhone 12 and HomePod mini event. Most readers are probably already familiar with what’s in the updates based on our iPhone 12 and HomePod mini overviews, so I thought I’d update my HomePods and devices to provide some hands-on thoughts about the changes.

Most of the new features are related to the HomePod. Although proximity-based features are exclusive to the HomePod mini, which features Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip, some of the other functionality revealed last week is available on all HomePod models.

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Apple’s October 2020 Event: All The Little Things

Apple events are always full of little details that don’t make it into the main presentation. Some tidbits are buried in footnotes and others in release notes. Yesterday’s event was no exception, so after having a chance to dig in a little deeper, here is an assortment of details about what Apple announced.

HomePod

iPhone 12

Accessories

  • Apple has reduced the price of EarPods $10 to $19, and the 20W charger that replaces the 18W charger is $19, down from the $29 charged for the 18W version.
  • Belkin has announced a 3-in-1 MagSafe charging stand and a MagSafe car mount.

You can follow all of our October event coverage through our October 2020 event hub, or subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.


Apple’s HomePod mini: The MacStories Overview

I have two HomePods: one in our living room and another in my office. They sound terrific, and I’ve grown to depend on the convenience of controlling HomeKit devices, adding groceries to my shopping list, checking the weather, and being able to ask Siri to pick something to play when I can’t think of anything myself. My office isn’t very big, though, and when rumors of a smaller HomePod surfaced, I was curious to see what Apple was planning.

Today, those plans were revealed during the event the company held remotely from the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino. Apple introduced the HomePod mini, a diminutive $99 smart speaker that’s just 3.3 inches tall and 3.8 inches wide. In comparison, the original HomePod is 6.8 inches tall and 5.6 inches wide. At just .76 pounds, the mini is also considerably lighter than the 5.5-pound original HomePod.

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Apple Audio: AirPods Receive Automatic Switching, Spatial Audio on AirPods Pro, and HomePod Integrates with Third-Party Music Services

Apple’s audio products – especially AirPods and AirPods Pro – are becoming major players in the company’s product ecosystem, and as a result it’s no surprise that new features for these products were announced at WWDC. Easily my favorite audio announcement was automatic switching between devices, but there’s a lot of other great audio news too: spatial audio on AirPods Pro, third-party music services on HomePod, audio sharing on tvOS, headphone accommodations, and more.

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Automating HomePod Volume Levels

Great idea by Matthew Cassinelli: using the new HomePod and AirPlay 2 actions for home automation in iOS 13.2, it is possible to automate a HomePod’s volume level (including its Siri responses) throughout the day.

But one of the nagging problems with HomePod is the way Siri, regardless of the current time of day, will respond loudly at whatever volume you’ve previously set.

Whether it’s the middle of the night or super early in the morning, it’s all too common to ask Siri something and the answer shouted backed at you, only because you listened to music loudly sometime yesterday. Hopefully nobody wakes up, you curse at how dumb your supposedly “smart” speaker can be, and frantically try to turn it down.

Thankfully, iOS 13.2 provides a route to a solution by adding HomePods and AppleTV to scenes and automations – the HomePod didn’t fix this on its own, but, with a Home Automation, you can make it “smart” enough yourself.

As I explained when iOS 13.2 came out, you can put together these automations by using the ‘Adjust Audio Only’ option after selecting a HomePod or compatible AirPlay 2 speaker in the Home app. I just set this up for my three HomePods and Sonos One, and, sure enough, at 11:20 PM, volume was set to 15% on all my speakers (it should be raised back up to 50% tomorrow at noon).

In theory, I would like to turn this automation into a shortcut and add a Pushcut notification to confirm the volume change (and optionally shuffle a playlist by choosing a HomeKit scene from the notification’s actions). There’s a bug that prevents me from doing this in the latest iOS 13.3 beta, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future.

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Apple Updates the HomePod with Multi-Voice Support and Ambient Sounds, Plus iPhone Handoff, Shortcuts, and HomeKit Functionality

On Monday, Apple released audioOS 13.2 for the HomePod and before the end of the day US-time pulled it when users started reporting that it was bricking their HomePods. In addition to bricking some HomePods, other users, myself included, had trouble setting up multi-voice support. I also heard from others who had trouble getting the update to install in the first instance. Today, shortly after Apple’s earnings call concluded, the company released audioOS 13.2.1, which includes the same features and presumably fixes the issues users experienced.

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