While the kind of new HomePod grabbed all the attention this week, the HomePod Mini also gets some new features. With the launch of iOS 16.3 (probably later this month), the Mini will gain the same smart home capabilities as the new, larger second-generation HomePod. The differences between the two Apple speaker siblings are now mainly in size and sound power. From new tricks for measuring temperature and humidity to the ability to find your family for you and even set up automations using 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 line
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 an example of this and it seems like a useful integration, allowing you to talk to anyone in your home directly through the HomePod from a notification on your lock screen. But my favorite new ability is something Siri right now won’t do — that is to talk to you every time you ask him to turn off the light. I want my voice assistants to say as little as possible.
The new capabilities 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 get a first look at some of these new features. Here are some first impressions.
Temperature and humidity detection
We’ve known for a while that the HomePod Mini had a temperature and humidity sensor on board, 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 have also been 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 set the HomePod to send a notification when the temperature or humidity changes
In the app you can also see the measured values at the top of the room where the speaker is located. If you have several temperature sensors in the room, it will display an average of them. Tap the reading to access individual sensor readings and settings.
Here you can rename the sensors. Oddly enough, the HomePod sensors appeared with different default names on each of the two HomePod Minis I have. On the one hand, they came through as a humidity sensor and temperature sensor, and on the other, they came through with a more generic HomePod Sensor136480.
You can create automations from this settings page to, for example, trigger other smart home devices to respond to the temperature or humidity going above or below a certain threshold. You can also create scenes and automations using the sensors through the app’s automations tab.
As with most Apple Home automations, you can set parameters using time (anytime, daytime, nighttime, or specific times) and/or people (when someone is home, when I’m home, when no one is home, or when I am not at home).
I have successfully created an automation to turn on the heat on the mini split unit in my bedroom to 68 degrees Fahrenheit when the temperature drops below 66 degrees Fahrenheit and then to turn on the AC when it goes above 76 .
I also tested the HomePod Mini’s measurements against a Aqara indoor air quality monitorand they were consistently close, only a degree at a time on temperature and by about 2 percent on humidity.
Apple does warn 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 at high volume for extended periods of time. (I haven’t tested this yet.)
My favorite new ability is something Siri right now won’t do.
Other possible automations the sensors could be used for include lowering smart shades if the temperature rises in the afternoon when the sun can add radiant heat to the room – or turning on a fan connected to a smart plug when the temperature rises or a compatible smart humidifier when the humidity drops below a certain point.
One thing I’d like to do, but couldn’t, is set it to send a notification when the temperature or humidity changes significantly – which would be useful in a child’s room, for example.
Currently, it seems you can only set up automations with the sensors in Apple Home, not third-party HomeKit apps like Eve, Home plusand controller, as HomePod speakers don’t show up in these other apps. This probably means the sensors aren’t exposed to matter 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
The HomePod Mini can now track your family and friends for you, as well as any items you’ve connected to Find My via AirTags or other Find My devices. Just say, “Hey Siri, where is [insert name of a family member or friend or item]?”
I find Apple’s Find My feature a bit spotty. It’s always hard to find my daughter, who has an Apple Watch, not an iPhone. But I tested this feature on my son with his iPhone 13, and he was able to locate it easily and replied with his distance and location to a nearby address. I also tested it with an AirTag connected to a backpack and it responded accurately.
Set up 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 at 9pm every night and had some trouble at first. The language must be very precise; it didn’t like “every night” so I had to say “every day”. But finally I got it to work with this language:
“Hey Siri, set up an automation to lock the front door at 9 p.m. every day.”
Siri responded with a confirmation, “I’ve set the Yale lock to lock at 9 p.m. starting tonight.”
I’m not sure how much I’ll use this ability personally, but I can see it being a precursor to Siri potentially suggesting to set up automations for you, similar to Amazon Alexa’s prompts.
Siri now says less
Siri is my voice assistant of choice for smart home control, mainly because it doesn’t try to join the conversation as much as some of its competitors. But lately it has become more extensive. This update fixes that somewhat by replacing the sometimes lengthy confirmation of actions after a smarthome command with just a soft thing thing.
This applies to actions involving devices that aren’t in the same room as the HomePod (for which Siri already only plays a confirmation sound) or devices that show no visual change, such as a heater.
Now when I ask Siri on the HomePod Mini to turn off the lights in, say, the kitchen while I’m in the bedroom, instead of audibly confirming that the lights are off, there’s just a soft sound to indicate that my will has done.
However, if something goes wrong, it will still say “I tried, but some devices didn’t respond.”
Ambient sounds can now be part of scenes and automations
Finally, Apple says it’s the ambient sounds on the HomePod Mini, including ocean, white noise, fireplace and rain. These sounds 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 that play on the HomePod. I was able to set the volume it would play at when the scene was triggered, but couldn’t set a time when it would turn off, which is something I’d like to see added.
Overall, these new features add some much-needed functionality to the HomePod line (they’ll all be on the new HomePod, too), which has caught up in terms of functionality to Amazon’s Echo devices. Those speakers have had sound recognition for a while. They can also act as motion sensors and can reply in a whisper when you speak softly to them, features I’d like to see coming to the HomePod line as well. As long as Siri doesn’t pick up on Alexa’s “by the way” habit, where Amazon’s assistant offers useful information unsolicited. It is rarely useful and often involves asking you to spend money.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge