published: March 31, 2021 at 09:00
Apple's HomePod mini is seen in a photo released in Cupertino, California, USA, on October 13, 2020.
Apple's HomePod mini speaker was launched in November last year, with new features such as a home intercom system. But part of the device remained secret - a sensor that measures temperature and humidity.
The technology giant in Cupertino, California, has never unveiled this component, and the device currently lacks consumer-oriented features that use it. The company discussed internally the use of the sensor to determine the temperature and humidity of a room, so that thermostats connected to the Internet can adjust different parts of a house according to current conditions, depending on people familiar with the situation.
The hardware may also allow the HomePod mini to automatically trigger other actions, such as turning the fan on or off, depending on the temperature.
If Apple eventually activates the sensor, it would support a smart home strategy, which sometimes had no focus and followed that of rivals. Amazon's latest Echo speakers have temperature sensors, while Google's Nest sells sensors that can be placed around homes and connected to its thermostats to adjust each room's temperature.
The new capabilities would be a special advantage for an Apple software system called HomeKit that controls thermostats, lights, locks, sockets and other devices in the house. HomeKit works with fewer gadgets than similar software from Amazon and Google, and Apple does not create its own smart-home hardware beyond the HomePod and Apple TV streaming box. However, there are about 40 thermostats featured on the Apple website that are compatible with HomeKit.
The sensor, which measures 1.5 mm by 1.5 mm, is buried in the lower edge of the plastic case, wrapped in the fabric of the HomePod mini, next to its power cord. The location of the component was confirmed by iFixit, which eliminated one of the speakers after an investigation by Bloomberg News. The sensor is manufactured by Texas Instruments and is called the HDC2010 digital humidity and temperature sensor, according to TechInsights, a company that analyzes components inside electronics.
The part is located relatively far from the main internal components of the device, which means that it is designed to measure the external environment, rather than the temperature of the other electronics of the speaker. Many mobile devices include sensors that can trigger the device to slow down performance or disable features to stop component overheating.
Although rare, this is not the first time Apple has introduced latent technology in its devices. The 2008 iPod touch had a Bluetooth chip, but support for Bluetooth connectivity was enabled the following year through the software. Apple usually releases major HomePod software updates annually in the fall. It's unclear if or when Apple will turn on the temperature sensor, but its presence in already sold HomePod mini-units suggests it's only a matter of time. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
Apple did not have a serious offer on the smart home market until 2018 with the original HomePod. This device was recently discontinued after poor sales. Some decision makers within the company worry that it may be too late for Apple to make a strong entry into the industry, especially as it focuses on other new categories, such as virtual and augmented reality headphones and autonomous electric cars. Others believe that the company can take its time and customers will still be interested.
Some insiders blame the lack of progress so far on Siri, Apple's voice recognition service which, while improving, is still considered behind Google's Assistant and Amazon's Alexa.
Whatever the reason, no unifying strategy has emerged so far, said one person familiar with the situation. People asked not to be identified discussing sensitive issues. This happens after Apple sought to renew its efforts in the smart home with a new team that it started to form in 2019.
Apple continues to eliminate this opportunity through individual device updates. Prior to the discontinuation of the larger HomePod, the company was working on an updated version for launch in 2022. It has also developed new speakers with screens and cameras, but such a launch is not imminent. Apple is also working on an upgrade of the Apple TV set-top box. Until that time comes, Apple will probably try to unlock the greatest functionality in the HomePod mini.Bloomberg
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