Apple's new smart speaker may be small, but these new changes are huge.
When Apple unveiled the new HomePod Mini last month (along with the iPhone 12 lineup) it introduced a litany of next-level features aimed at competing with Google Home, Nest Audio and Amazon's family of Echo speakers. Not only does the compact HomePod Mini's $99 price tag make the Siri-powered smart speaker more affordable than the HomePod ($299), it also includes an array of new features that even the full-size HomePod and rival speakers lack, like automatically pairing two HomePod Minis in the same room.
The HomePod Mini is already available for preorder, and devices ship and go on sale Nov. 16. Here's CNET's review of Apple's HomePod Mini, and below is a look at the biggest new features Apple announced, as well as how you'll use them.
One of the downsides to using a smart speaker is you lose the three-dimensional sound you'd get from a stereo, which separates music into two channels (surround-sound uses even more) and plays sounds at different levels on opposite speakers. Other smart speakers let you pair them up in their respective apps, but Apple says when you put two HomePod Minis in the same room, the speakers will recognize each other and automatically separate into left and right channels to create a stereo pair.
How you'll use it: If you pick up two of Apple's newest smart speaker (or are lucky enough to get them as holiday gifts), you can place them on a bookshelf, end tables or desk and the speakers will sense each other's presence and ask if you'd like to connect them in stereo.
Why it's cool: Smart speaker settings are notoriously confusing and difficult to navigate, especially when setting up stereo pairing. It takes no fewer than seven steps to do it on Google Home, for example. This way could be much more streamlined.
HomePod Mini's new intercom feature means no more shouting to announce dinner. Instead, get everyone's attention by broadcasting a message that plays on HomePods and appears as a push notification on iOS devices scattered throughout the house.
How it works: Record a message on a HomePod, iPhone , iPad or Mac, and Siri will play it on all your HomePods as well as household members' AirPods and will send a push notification to household iOS devices and Macs.
How you'll use it: Say, "Hey Siri, tell everyone… ," then include the message you want to broadcast across the house.
Why it's cool: Google Home has a similar feature called Broadcast and Alexa devices have Announce, but Apple's Intercom feature goes beyond smart home devices and pings the devices people pay attention to the most as well: their phones and tablets .
Later this year, Apple says, when you bring a compatible iPhone up next to a HomePod Mini, you'll be able to "hand off" music, with visual, sound and haptic (vibration) cues that create a stronger sense of connection between the devices.
How it works: The HomePod Mini has the same ultra-wideband chip Apple included in the iPhone 11 and 12 series, which theoretically allows the devices to sense the distance between each other more accurately than other technologies like Bluetooth .
How you'll use it: Let's say you're listening to a playlist on AirPods connected to your iPhone but you want to play the music out loud on a HomePod Mini. You'll walk over to the HomePod Mini, unlock your phone and follow prompts to "sling" the music to the smart speaker, complete with animations, sounds and vibrations to confirm the transaction.
Why it's cool: Ultra-wideband technology is fairly new, and device makers are just beginning to scratch the surface of possibilities.
For more Apple tips and tricks, check out these 13 features new to iOS 14, these nine hidden iPhone features we just discovered and these troubleshooting steps for fixing a buggy iPhone.