For months, consumer electronics insiders have been waiting for Apple to unveil a less expensive HomePod. The company’s first-generation smart speaker, which retails for $299, has been cost prohibitive for some consumers. Apple has been conspicuously absent in the entry level smart speaker segment while Amazon and Google have flooded the market with low cost Amazon Echo Dots and Google Home Minis (now Nest Mini).
The Apple faithful have had just one option, until now. This week Apple released a $99, small form factor smart speaker called the HomePod mini, featuring a spherical, cloth-covered design and only three microphones (as opposed to six in the flagship HomePod). Consumers who wish to fill multiple rooms in their home with audio can buy more than one HomePod mini and streams will stay in sync, or they can pair the speakers together for a more enveloping stereo sound. From a smart home perspective, in addition to controlling other devices with Siri voice commands, the new HomePod mini comes with an intercom feature, enabling family members to send messages across the house from one HomePod to another.
HomePod mini buyers, however, are faced with some limitations. The speaker currently offers only Apple Music and does not support third-party music services such as Amazon Music, Spotify and Pandora. Apple has announced support for Amazon Music and Pandora in the near future, but its dispute with Pandora over app store fees leaves one wondering if Spotify will be left in the cold. Additionally, Apple does not encourage development of third-party skills as Amazon and Google do, meaning that the HomePod can only interact with a select set of third-party devices that Apple chooses.
“These limitations will likely drive a significant share of buyers to other platforms,” cautioned Stuart Sikes, Senior Vice President at Interpret. “Our Smart Home Matrix® research indicates that 21% of smart speaker owners use their device to control other media devices such as TVs and home theaters, and 18% use the device to control smart home products such as thermostats and lighting. Until Apple embraces third-party device control, those using smart speakers as the controller for home systems may be reluctant to purchase a HomePod.”