- The HomePod mini is the cheapest home hub for Apple’s HomeKit.
- Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video is essential if you have a camera.
- Setup is absurdly easy.
If you're looking to get into home automation, Apple's HomePod mini might be the perfect way to start.
Home automation has a few downsides. It can compromise your privacy, even if you’re not running a web-connected camera on your network, and it can be a pain to set things up and keep them running. Using Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem can help with one of these, and you get a surprisingly great home speaker in the bargain.
“With its tight integration with Apple’s HomeKit platform, the HomePod mini provides a secure and reliable way to control your home’s environment,” Rick Costa of the House Electric blog told Lifewire via email. “What makes the HomePod mini a great starting point for home automation is its ease of use. Setup is simple and quick, and once you have the device connected to your home network, you’ll be able to easily manage and control your HomeKit-enabled devices.”
To use HomeKit, you need a home hub, something that stays in your home, and it is always switched on and connected to the network. You used to be able to use an iPad as a home hub, but in iOS 16.2 this changed. Now, you need either a HomePod, or an Apple TV to act as the hub.
The HomePod mini is the cheapest option, at $99. Setting it up is super easy. You just plug it into the wall, and bring your iPhone nearby. They will notice each other, and with a couple of taps, the new HomePod mini is connected to your network and ready for you to add smart home accessories, from light switches to cameras, to thermostats, color-changing light bulbs, locks, alarms systems, and more.
First up, in terms of sound, the HomePod mini is no HomePod. How could it be? It's a tiny satsuma-sized ball with way fewer parts and much smaller speakers than its discontinued big sibling. But it is a lot better than that size difference might suggest.
The first time you hear it play music, you will be surprised at how deep and full it sounds. It's more than good enough for playing kitchen tunes, and it's especially good for podcasts, making voices much clearer than some supposedly much better, and definitely much bigger, speakers.
If you want better sound, add a second speaker and pair them in stereo mode. This is suited to using them as speakers for a TV or when watching movies on an iPad.
“In terms of its worth as a standalone speaker, that may depend on individual preferences and priorities. Some users may prioritize sound quality above all else, in which case there may be better options available,” technology writer Umar Farooq told Lifewire via email.
Another nicety of the HomePod mini is that it uses AirPlay 2, which lets anyone on your home network (deepening on how you have it set up) control the music. And you can also easily hand music and other audio in both directions from the speaker to an iPhone and back.
The main reason to choose Apple for your home automation is privacy. In fact, that used to be the only reason because the number of HomeKit-certified devices was much smaller than the range available for other home automation setups. Thanks to the new Matter standard, which was partly developed by Apple and folds in HomeKit that has changed that. All Matter-capable devices are interoperable and can be used on any system.
The biggest advantage of choosing HomeKit is if you use a security camera. It’s possible to buy a camera, pair it with HomeKit, and never use the manufacturer’s app. That’s thanks to HomeKit Secure Video, which interacts with the camera, generates notifications, allows streaming, and stores any recordings securely in your iCloud Drive.
Even if everything else was a complete mess, that alone would be reason enough to use HomeKit because you can trust it. And if you have a camera inside your home, you really, really need to trust it.
I guess I’m just saying this is a great little device that does a helluva lot for $99. It’s worth checking out.