Apple makes important change to HomePod mini but fails to tell anyone
The smart speaker industry debuted in 2014 with Amazon's Echo. Essentially a speaker and a digital assistant in one device, the smart speaker uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet. With a smart speaker, users can play streaming music, hear the weather, get the latest news reports, find out if their home teams won yesterday, control their smart home appliances, and much more. And these devices are now offered in a variety of styles and prices allowing just about every one to own one or more smart speakers in their home.
The HomePod mini gets an important new feature that Apple didn't bother to mention with the latest update
Apple entered the smart speaker arena when it unveiled the HomePod in 2017. After a delay, the product finally started shipping in February 2018. Apple's version of the smart speaker was ambitious; eight speakers came with the product. With the HomePod, Apple swung for the fences and priced it at $349. Consider that the less feature-rich Amazon Echo Dot lists for $50 and can often be found on sale for half that price during the holidays.
Amazon and Google have been the top two manufacturers of smart speakers with Apple an afterthought. Pricing, of course, is a major reason why this is the case. Apple did eventually drop the price to $299 but that failed to light a spark under buyers. So this year Apple tried a different tactic. It launched the HomePod mini, a smaller and less ambitious smart speaker priced at a much more reasonable $99. Shipping started last month and while the timing wasn't perfect, the device might have been found under many Christmas trees this year.
Recently, Apple disseminated the HomePod 14.3 update and it includes support for 18W charging but not for the reason you might expect. The HomePod mini launched with a 20W adapter in the box and the device needed at least 20W to function. Because the update reduced this to 18W, HomePod mini owners now have a wider selection of adapters and chargers to choose from. According to The 8-Bit (via AppleInsider), Apple never changed the support notes that accompanied the update to mention this change. It was actually discovered by some Reddit users (who probably were told by their parents that they'd never amount to anything) who tested out 18W power banks with the HomePod mini and discovered that it actually worked. Thus, the smart speaker could be used as a mobile device (with a nearby Wi-Fi signal, or through your iPhone using AirPlay 2).
Prior to the update, if you tried to use an 18W adapter to power up your HomePod mini, an orange light would glow indicating that the smart speaker had a dumb owner who couldn't read that 20W was needed to get the device to run. But there is one more warning. Not all 18W power adapters will work even after the update. If you were lucky enough to buy the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max back in the day when Apple included a charger in the box with its handsets, those will definitely work with the HomePod mini.
Audiophiles might enjoy hearing 360-degree sound that Apple says will fill up an entire room. But alas, that is only one feature of a smart speaker. Many of the tasks that you will want to have your HomePod mini do will require you to use its digital assistant. In this case you would need to use Siri which pales in comparison to Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa.
We don't want to be accused of nagging, but we should remind you that before you can run your HomePod mini on 18W, you do need to install the 14.3 update first. To do that, make sure that your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac are updated to their latest version. Open the Home app. Go to Home Settings > Software Update. If an update is available, click on Install.