Although yesterday's big event was almost entirely about the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, Apple did have one other surprise that it dropped right at the beginning in the form of the much-anticipated HomePod mini, and while Apple focused almost entirely on the new speaker, in the process it also gave away a few more things that will soon be coming to the bigger HomePod as well.
Generally, Apple's "HomePod OS" updates have always lagged a bit behind the corresponding iOS versions, and this year has been no exception. However, Apple clearly has its reasons for that this time around, since it obviously didn't want to tip its hand before announcing the new HomePod mini, which will undoubtedly ship with the HomePod equivalent of iOS 14 preinstalled.
When Apple announced all of its major software updates back at June's Worldwide Developers Conference, it really didn't have much to say about what was coming to the HomePod. Instead, it wrapped everything up in a Smart Home presentation, with the only reference to the HomePod being a passing mention that it would be gaining the ability to let you know when somebody was at your front door, using facial recognition to try and identify them by name as well (assuming you have a supported doorbell camera, of course).
There have also been sporadic rumours that you'll soon be able to use other music services as defaults, but Apple never officially confirmed whether or not this would be the case, or exactly how it would work. It's already possible to use Spotify and other services from the HomePod by appending "with Spotify" to your requests, just like you can from your iPhone, but this simply uses SiriKit, just like any other third-party app, and therefore also requires your paired iPhone nearby.
During yesterday's event, however, Apple announced a few new interesting features for the HomePod mini that the company has also confirmed will be coming to its bigger sibling in the HomePod OS 14 update as well, and although Apple hasn't indicated when these will arrive, it's a safe bet that they'll likely come around the same time the HomePod mini goes on sale in November. Read on for 9 exciting features that will soon be coming to your HomePod.
Perhaps the most prominent feature that Apple showed off for the HomePod mini is the ability to use multiple HomePods as an intercom system, and while it makes sense for this to be a feature introduced with the lower-cost HomePod mini — most users haven't been dropping multiple $300 speakers around their home — there's no reason that the bigger HomePod shouldn't be able to play along too.
With Intercom you'll be able to call out to any one of your HomePods, using Siri, in order to have it broadcast a voice message either to an individual room or to every HomePod in your house. To be fair, it's not really a true "intercom" in the sense that you won't be communicating in real-time, but it will allow others to easily respond to your messages, so it still offers two-way communication.
What's more, the feature will also work across all of Apple's devices in both directions, so you'll be able to send an intercom message from your CarPlay dashboard on the way home, or from your Apple Watch while you're out for a run. Incoming intercom messages will appear as transcribed text-based notifications on iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch, while those wearing AirPods will hear them read out, similar to how the Announce Messages with Siri feature works.
Using the Home app it will also be possible for each user to choose to receive intercom messages no matter where they are, or only when they're located at home, and the home organizer can also determine which users will be able to send intercom messages from their devices.
Third-Party Music Services
Despite several rumours from earlier this year that support for third-party music services is coming, Apple still hasn't had much to say about it, beyond briefly touching on the fact that HomePod users will be able to listen to music from Pandora, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn.
Of course, the last three of these have been included for over a year now, so those ones aren't really news. It's the latter two, Pandora and Amazon Music, that are yet to come, and according to Apple, those won't be online until later this year.
Spotify is conspicuously absent from this list right now, although it's not clear if that's just a marketing omission on Apple's part — after all, the two companies aren't exactly on friendly terms these days — or whether Apple isn't quite yet opening up the HomePod as widely as earlier reports suggested. Either way, it sounds like we'll have to wait and see what Apple has in store for third-party music services on HomePod.
Wake up to Your Favourite Music
We really wonder why this feature wasn't included in the HomePod right out of the gate, but the good news is that it's here now so you'll finally be able to choose to set a song, playlist, or radio station from Apple Music as your preferred alarm sound.
Despite upcoming support for third-party music services, it's not clear at this point whether you'll ultimately be able to pick music from another service, but based on screenshots found by MacRumors in the HomePod OS beta, it looks like for now at least you'll need to have an active Apple Music subscription to use this feature.
There are a lot of questions that Siri can answer directly using common knowledge sources like Wikipedia, but right now if you ask your HomePod for something that requires a deeper web search, Siri will simply respond with an apology saying it "can't search the web from here."
In the coming update, however, it looks like Siri will now take the much more logical step of sending the web search results to your iPhone, likely letting you know to pull out your iPhone and take a look, and using voice recognition to send it to the iPhone of the user who made the actual request, similar to how secure personal requests work right now.
During yesterday's unveiling of the HomePod mini, Apple also briefly showed off a "maps continuity" feature that will allow users to request directions ask for location information from their HomePod and then automatically transfer that information to their CarPlay dashboard so that they won't have to look up the same location again.
Unfortunately, Apple has really said much more about this feature, and it doesn't appear to have gotten any mention in the company's press releases or even on the HomePod mini product page, so we don't really know much more about it, except that Apple has confirmed it will be coming to the larger HomePod as well.
Multi-user Support for Podcasts
When Apple debuted voice recognition for the HomePod last year, it added the ability for a user's own personal Apple Music library to be used based on the voice that was calling out a song request, but sadly while this also worked for more obvious personal requests for things like calendars, notes, and messages, it didn't extend to podcast libraries.
Fortunately, Apple will be addressing this shortcoming this year, which should make homes with multiple podcast fans happy, as they'll now be able to call up their favourite podcasts from their own libraries, based on what's set up in the Apple Podcasts app on their iPhone. Of course, this won't be as useful for those who are using third-party podcasting clients, although you should still be able to search for any podcast by name regardless.
Siri will be gaining a few more smarts with the HomePod OS 14 update on both the HomePod and HomePod mini that will now allow users to request a personal update at any time, providing a daily summary of things like news, weather and traffic reports, and their tasks and appointments for the day.
It's unclear right now whether this will be managed entirely through Siri's own AI logic or whether each user will be able to tailor it more specifically to their needs, but it will leverage the voice recognition features that Apple introduced last year to identify who is speaking, and information is pulled from each user's specific iPhone, not from iCloud.
Immersive Home Theatre Experience
According to Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, the larger HomePod will actually still be gaining at least one feature that won't be supported on the HomePod mini, which will allow for 5.1, 7,1 and Dolby Atmos surround sound when paired with an Apple TV.
Since the HomePod mini doesn't have the spatial audio support of the mainstream HomePod, it's simply not possible for Apple to offer this on the smaller speakers; although you'll still be able to pair two HomePod minis to your Apple TV, you won't be able to take advantage of the new home theatre experience unless you're using a full-sized HomePod.
With this update, it will also be possible to set the Apple TV to use your HomePods or HomePod minis as default speakers. Up until now, you've had to switch over to them manually.
Note that in the same way you can't mix a HomePod and HomePod mini in a stereo pair, you also won't be able to connect both models to the same Apple TV at the same time.
Integration and Stereo Pairing
It's probably not a big surprise when you think about it, but you won't be able to pair a HomePod and HomePod mini in a stereo configuration. You'll still of course be able to pair two HomePods, or two HomePod minis, but it really makes no sense to have two different speakers in a stereo pair, so Apple isn't allowing it.
That said, HomePods and HomePod minis will still work as seamlessly together as possible, so you can play music or podcasts throughout your home or use the intercom feature between them, however, it's very unlikely that the current full-size HomePod will support the "follow me" feature, since it lacks Apple's U1 chip for device proximity.
Of course, by extension, this feature will only work for users who have a U1-equipped device on their person, which at this point is basically an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12. It's also starting to make sense why Apple added the U1 chip to the Apple Watch Series 6 this year, although at this point the fine-print on Apple's HomePod mini page indicates that a "U1-equipped iPhone" is required (emphasis ours).
Likewise, there are more advanced handoff features and "personalized listening suggestions" that may also be supported only on the HomePod mini, since these also require the U1 chip to determine when your iPhone is nearby. You'll still presumably be able to use the normal handoff feature with the larger HomePod, however, allowing you to transfer whatever is playing by holding your iPhone right next to your speaker.