An Apple HomePod smart speaker, taken on February 14, 2018. (Photo by Olly Curtis/MacFormat … [+]
Apple has just cancelled its premium smart speaker, the HomePod (you can still buy it while stocks last, but only the white model is available from apple.com already). It’s focusing on the more recent, more affordable, smaller HomePod mini. Is this a good idea?
The smaller, cuter, cheaper Apple HomePod mini in action.
Apple first launched the HomePod in early 2017. It was met with mixed reviews, though nearly all critics, myself included, praised it as sounding better than any other smart speaker on the market.
Amazingly, that still applies, though the competition has caught up in audio terms hugely. Most notably, Amazon’s Echo Studio speaker and the portable Sonos Move offer really strong music playback.
The trouble is, while still being the best for music, the smart part of the equation is still better handled by Amazon and Google. Though Siri knows much more than it did and is much more capable, Apple’s rivals still know and do a little more.
Which is a problem if you’re about to shell out $300 – or $600 for a stereo pair. However, it’s much less of an issue if you can get music playback that’s very nearly as good for a third of the price. The HomePod mini, launched last Fall, costs just $99, but sounds like it should be more expensive.
It’s not quite as wonderful-sounding as its bigger sibling, but it’s smarter, thanks to a newer processor and Ultra Wideband chip.
This is far from the first time Apple has discontinued one product to put all its attention on a smaller one. I remember when Steve Jobs happily announced in 2005 that the iPod mini was the most successful MP3 player in the world, saying, “Well… today we’re going to replace it.” He then pulled an iPod nano out the ticket pocket in his jeans. The nano remained successful in different guises for more than a decade.
The HomePod mini in fetching white finish.
There’s no question the HomePod mini is superior to the original in plenty of ways, from a neater edge-to-edge touchscreen on top, to that UWB chip to audio that sounds way bigger than the device’s size or price tag suggest. Oh, and it has a different material in its base so the Ringgate scandal, where the original could leave a mark on some surfaces, has been addressed.
You’ll notice I keep coming back to the price. That’s because although the HomePod was not cheap, the mini definitely is. It’s the same price as the Amazon Echo. I can’t think of another time an Apple gadget has come close to the price of an Amazon equivalent, let alone matching it.
And given that I’d say the mini sounds much better than the Echo, in value terms it beats the Echo easily.
What’s next for the HomePod mini? Well, there are plenty of rumors, not to mention patents devised to allow screens under the mesh that are visible more widely. Plus, Siri is getting smarter all the time. In my initial review of the HomePod, I said that Apple had focused on the audio above everything else. I figured that while the audio is set by the physical acoustics the smart part of the deal can be upgraded all the time because Siri sits in the cloud.
So, farewell, HomePod. The HomePod mini has class-leading audio and smarter hardware, so maybe Apple has got the balance just right here. For sure, nobody’s complaining about the price.
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I’ve been writing about technology for two decades and am routinely struck by how the sector swings from startling innovation to persistent repetitiveness. My areas of