While the kind of new HomePod got all the attention this week, the HomePod Mini also gets some new features. With the launch of iOS 16.3 (likely later this month), the Mini will get the same smart home capabilities as the new, larger, second-gen HomePod. The differences between the two Apple speaker siblings now mostly lie in size and sound capacity. From new temperature and humidity sensing tricks to the ability to find your family for you and even set up automations with just your voice, these new features should make the HomePod Mini a little more useful around the house.
These new features bring much-needed functionality to the HomePod lineup
Both HomePods will also get a sound recognition feature later this year, allowing them to listen for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. I’ve seen a preview of this, and it looks like a useful integration, letting you talk directly to anyone in your home through the HomePod from a notification on your lock screen. But my favorite new ability is something that Siri now won’t do — which consists of responding to you each time you ask him to turn off the lights. I like my voice assistants to say as little as possible.
The new features will appear automatically once you update your devices to iOS 16.3 and HomePod software version 16.3, which should be available later this month. However, the iOS 16.3 beta release candidate landed on Wednesday, so I downloaded it to preview some of these new features. Here are some first impressions.
Temperature and humidity detection
We know the HomePod Mini had a temperature and humidity sensor on board for a while, but it’s been dormant since launch. With HomePod software version 16.3, the chip gets its wake-up call, and once your HomePod Mini is updated, it can start monitoring the temperature and humidity for you in the room it’s in.
You can see the readings at a glance in the Home app on iOS and iPad OS devices that are also updated to 16.3. The easiest way is to tap the Climate shortcut at the top of the home screen, which shows readings from all the temperature and humidity sensors in your home.
I couldn’t configure the HomePod to send a notification when the temperature or humidity changes
In the app, you can also see readings at the top of the room the speaker is in. If you have multiple temperature sensors in the room, it will show an average of them. Tap the reading to access individual sensor readings and settings.
Here you can rename the sensors. Oddly, the HomePod sensors appeared with different default names on each of the two HomePod Minis I have. On the one hand, they appeared as a humidity sensor and temperature sensor, and on the other, they came with a more generic HomePod Sensor136480.
You can create automations from this settings page to do things like trigger other smart home devices to respond to temperature or humidity that goes above or below a certain threshold. You can also create scenes and automations using the sensors via the automations tab of the app.
As with most Apple Home automations, you can set parameters using time (anytime, day, night, or specific times) and/or people (when someone is home , when I’m home, when nobody’s home or when I’m not home).
I managed to create an automation to turn on the heater for my bedroom mini-split unit to 68 degrees Fahrenheit when the temperature drops below 66 degrees Fahrenheit, then turn on the AC when it goes above 76.
I also tested the HomePod Mini’s readings against an Aqara indoor air quality monitor, and they were consistently close, varying only a degree on both temperature and about 2% on humidity.
Apple warns that the sensors are optimized for ambient temperatures around 69 degrees Fahrenheit and 86 degrees Fahrenheit and that accuracy is not guaranteed when the speaker plays music for long periods at high volumes. (I haven’t tested this yet.)
My new favorite ability is something that Siri now won’t do.
Other potential automations the sensors could be used for include lowering smart blinds if the temperature rises in the afternoon when the sun can add radiant heat to the room – or to turn on a fan connected to a smart plug when the temperature rises or activate a compatible smart humidifier when the humidity drops below a certain point.
One thing I wish I could do that I couldn’t is set it to send a notification when the temperature or humidity changes significantly – which would be useful, for example, in a nursery .
Currently, it looks like you can only set up automations with Apple Home’s sensors, not third-party HomeKit apps like Eve, Home Plus, and Controller, because HomePod speakers don’t show up in those others apps. This likely means the sensors won’t be exposed to the material either, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
You can also ask Siri what the temperature or humidity is in the room, and it will respond with a specific reading from its sensor or an average if you have multiple sensors in the room.
find your family
HomePod Mini can now track your family and friends for you, as well as anything you’ve connected to Find My via AirTags or any Find My-enabled device. Just say, “Hey Siri, where’s [insert name of a family member or friend or item]?”
I find Apple’s Find My feature to be a bit spotty. I’m still having trouble finding my daughter, who has an Apple Watch, not an iPhone. But I tested this feature on my son with his iPhone 13, and he located it easily, responding with his distance and location to a nearby address. I also tested it with an AirTag connected to a backpack, and it responded accurately.
Configure Apple home automation with your voice
You can now set up recurring Apple Home automations using Siri on the HomePod Mini. I tried to make one to lock my front door every night at 9 p.m. and had a little trouble at first. The language must be very precise; it didn’t like “every night”, so I had to say “every day”. But I finally managed to make it work with this language:
“Hey Siri, set up an automation to lock the front door at 9 p.m. every day.”
Siri replied with a confirmation: “I’ve set Yale’s lock to lock at 9 p.m. starting tonight.”
I don’t know how much I’ll use this capability, personally, but I can see it’s a precursor to Siri potentially suggesting setting up automations for you, similar to Amazon Alexa’s intuition feature.
Siri says less
Siri is my favorite voice assistant for smart home control, mainly because it doesn’t try to engage in conversation as much as some of its competitors. But lately it’s gotten more verbose. This update fixes this somewhat by replacing the sometimes long confirmation of actions following a smart home command with just a soft ding ding.
This applies to actions that involve devices that aren’t in the same room as the HomePod (for which Siri already only plays a confirmation sound) or ones that don’t show a visual change, like a heater.
Now when I ask Siri on the HomePod Mini to turn off the lights, say, in the kitchen while I’m in the bedroom, instead of audibly confirming that the lights are off, there’s just a little sound to indicate that my will has been done.
However, if something goes wrong, it will always say “I tried but some devices did not respond”.
Ambient sounds can now be part of scenes and automations
Finally, Apple says it’s remastered ambient sounds on the HomePod Mini, including ocean, white noise, fireplace, and rain. These noises can now be added to scenes, automations and alarms.
I tested this with a bedtime scene I have that turns off the lights, locks the doors, and adjusts the thermostat, and I was able to add ocean sounds playing on the HomePod to it. I could set the volume it would play when the scene was on, but I couldn’t set a time for it to turn off, which I’d like to see added.
Overall, these new features bring much-needed functionality to the HomePod lineup (all will also be on the new HomePod), which has caught up in features on Amazon’s Echo devices. These speakers have had sound recognition for quite some time now. They can also act as motion sensors and can respond in a low voice if you speak to them softly, features I’d like to see come to the HomePod line as well. As long as Siri doesn’t pick up the “passing by” habit of Alexa, where Amazon’s assistant offers what it thinks is helpful information entirely spontaneous. It’s rarely helpful and often involves asking you to spend money.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy/The Verge
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