A new latent sensor currently in Apple’s HomePod mini could make the Siri-powered smart speaker a more useful part of the smart home if the company decides to turn it on in the future. Launched in November 2020, the HomePod mini was originally a smaller and more affordable sibling than the original HomePod. Now, with the official discontinuation of this larger version, the $ 99 model is the only smart speaker that Apple offers.
Like the large HomePod, however, it has always aimed to be more than just a way to play music. Although Apple has used features such as ultra-wideband to make playback from an iOS device to the HomePod mini easier, along with tight Apple Music integration, the speaker also has a Thread radio for future integration with smart home devices.
Apple does not yet use Thread hardware, but it is not the only part of the speaker that has apparently been incorporated to provide some degree of resistance in the future. The HomePod mini also includes a temperature and humidity sensor, Bloomberg reports, which is currently inactive, but with alleged discussions going on internally about exactly what could be done with this type of functionality.
HomePod mini disconnections from iFixit have confirmed the presence of a Texas Instruments HDC2010 digital humidity and temperature sensor. A small chip was positioned down at the edge of the speaker base, close to the power cord. That location has been selected, suggested, so that it can measure the ambient conditions in the room, rather than what happens in the speaker.
It seems that discussions within Apple explained how the sensor could be used in HomeKit, the company’s smart home ecosystem. Existing third-party devices can measure such levels in the room, but so far Apple has not offered tracking. One possibility, presumably discussed, is that the HomePod mini could use temperature and humidity levels to adjust a home’s HVAC system to the conditions in each room.
Alternatively, the readings could be used as a trigger for other HomeKit devices. A high humidity reading, for example, could act as a trigger for a HomeKit compatible dehumidifier. If a home had HomeKit-compatible motorized shades, rising temperatures could automatically cause the window to be covered in periods of strong sunlight.
Of course, Apple may also choose not to enable it at all. It is not uncommon for devices to include hardware features that are subsequently not required for consumer functionality as product plans change and evolve. FM radio chips on Apple iPhones, for example, have never been activated; Sonos has included two microphones in the Play Five speaker redesigned in 2015, just to change its strategy and hardware is not needed.
However, given Apple’s ambitions in smart home space and the usefulness of environmental sensors, it would seem likely that the mysterious HomePod mini chip will eventually be activated.