Apple unveiled a new smart speaker at its virtual showcase on Tuesday.
The unveiling came during the tech giants ‘Hi, Speed’, event which was streamed from Apple’s headquarters in California.
The annual launch event is nearly one month later than normal and comes as the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted Apple’s well-oiled machine for designing and churning out its biggest-selling product.
The Mini is powered by Apple’s S5 chip, the same one in the Apple Watch SE and Series 5, which Apple says allows for ‘computational audio’.
The speaker has a mesh appearance similar in design to the latest Echo and will interact directly with a user’s iPhone, providing visual, audio and haptic feedback.
It comes in white, space grey and is open for orders November 6, with shipping starting on November 16. It will retail for $99, Apple announced.
It also has a display on top of the speaker which provides the trademark waveform aesthetic now closely associated with Siri. It also has a touch panel on top for play/pause and volume options.
During the presentation of the speaker, which came before the iPhone 12 reveal, the Apple team focused on the audio quality and security of the speaker.
Apple’s Bob Borchers said the HomePod mini had ‘everything customers want in a smart speaker’.
‘HomePod mini is the ultimate smart speaker for anyone with an Apple device. It works effortlessly with iPhone to hand off music, answer calls, or deliver personalised listening suggestions, elevates the sound from Apple TV, plays music from a Mac, and so much more,’ he said.
However, it is its price which matters most to the market, as it sees Apple go directly up against Google and Amazon.
The original HomePod cost $349 at its 2018 launch, much more expensive than other options in the market, with Apple once again positioning itself as the top-of-the range option.
It failed to muscle in on the duopoly of Amazon and Google. Since then, Apple has woke up and realised the high-end market is not only limited but saturated.
The future lay in cheaper tech which was more accessible, and yet still had some of the new features, as proved with the success of handsets Pixel 4a and iPhone SE.
As a result, Apple’s hardware team has now finally rolled the Mini, a true rival to the Echo and Nest range.
There is a new hand-off feature that enables iPhone users to bring their smartphone close to the HomePod to hand over audio playing on the phone to the speaker.
Several mini-units can also be paired together around the home and play audio in multiple rooms while placing two HomePod mini speakers in the same room will create a stereo pairing.
While the Apple speaker is just entering the field of cheap smart speakers, the $99 price tag and Apple’s army of fanatics will eat into the dominance of its rivals.
Several HomePod Mini speakers can be used to play music, providing true stereo sound.
Apple also announced the Mini will be compatible with several third-party music services, including Amazon Music, but excluding Spotify.