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As Apple’s full-sized HomePod rides off into the sunset, it appears that the company may have even bigger plans for its smaller and much more affordable HomePod mini, with a recent report revealing hidden sensors inside that could be switched on through a software update, adding even more features to the smart speaker.
Apple’s unveiling of the HomePod mini last fall already showed us a fairly stark difference in the company’s strategy for the new speaker. Compared to the original 2017 HomePod announcement, which focused almost exclusively on the superior acoustical engineering behind the larger speaker, the HomePod mini made only passing references to sound quality, zeroing in on its place in the world of home automation instead.
While it’s understandable that Apple wouldn’t have too much to say about the audio on a $99 speaker, the new approach was clearly more fundamental to what Apple’s ultimate end game was for the HomePod family: an emphasis on the home more than anything else.
So, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that the HomePod mini actually packs in hidden environmental sensors.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, buried inside the small speaker is a sensor that measures both temperature and humidity. Apple has said absolutely nothing about this sensor, and at this point there are no consumer-facing features that use it. However, Gurman has been reliably informed of discussions within Apple about what it could be used for.
The sensor, which has had its existence confirmed by iFixit, is an extremely tiny component, measuring only a 1.5mm square, buried in the bottom edge of the case, near the power cable. It’s an off-the-shelf component made by Texas Instruments, called the HDC2010 Humidity and Temperature Digital Sensor.
What’s It For?
To be clear, this is not merely a sensor for monitoring the health of the electronics inside the HomePod mini. The position of the sensor makes it clear that it’s designed to measure external conditions. In other words, the environment in the room that the HomePod mini is in.
Gurman also adds that he’s been told by sources that Apple has specifically discussed using the sensor to determine a room’s temperature and humidity so that this could be fed to internet-connected thermostats, which could adjust temperatures accordingly.
It’s unclear if this means that Apple has plans to produce its own first-party thermostat, but in the very least this data could be fed into HomeKit, allowing users to monitor room conditions as well set up automations based upon them.
HomeKit-compatible environmental sensors already exist from companies like Eve, and thermostat makers like Ecobee provide their own remote sensors to monitor conditions around the home as well. However, considering the pricing of many of these standalone accessories, a $99 HomePod mini that already includes them sounds like a very attractive idea.
This would also be Apple’s first attempt at an actual home automation accessory. While the HomePod, HomePod mini, Apple TV can all act as Home Hubs, and also show up as devices in the Home app, Apple has left other home automation devices like temperature sensors, door locks, thermostats, and lights, up to third-party partners.
Again, it’s unclear how far Apple plans to go with this; as Gurman notes, there are already 40 thermostats featured on Apple’s Home Accessories Page that are compatible with HomeKit, so there seems to be little point in reinventing the wheel. At this point, however, making use of temperature sensors in HomeKit right now requires manually creating automations, which can be a complicated process to get just right.
Presumably, if Apple just wanted to feed data into the Home app in the same way as any other temperature sensor, it would have already enabled the sensor in the HomePod mini. The fact that it hasn’t done so suggests that it has much bigger plans in the works. A HomeKit feature that could provide more integrated temperature and humidity monitoring would be a big step toward a more useful and seamless home automation ecosystem.