When the HomePod mini launched a few months back, it appears Apple was holding out on everyone in the form of a secret temperature and humidity sensor.
The news comes via Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who’s got a pretty stellar track record when it comes to Apple leaks, and was confirmed by iFixit. (You can see iFixit’s photos of the sensor here.) The sensor appears to be made by Texas Instruments — the HDC2010 Humidity and Temperature Digital Sensor to be specific. It measures 1.5 mm x 1.5 mm and is located at the bottom edge of the HomePod mini’s base, near the power cable.
While you might think the sensor is there to prevent the speaker from overheating, Gurman contends that doesn’t seem to be the case, as it’s located in a different part of the speaker from the main components. What’s more likely is that the sensor is intended to measure the temperature and humidity of a particular room. That in turn could enable the HomePod mini to control smart thermostats or trigger other sorts of actions, like turning on a fan. You know, things that smart home hubs have been able to do for years.
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Right now, the sensor isn’t live and there aren’t any features that utilise it for consumers. That’s not too surprising. Apple has a tendency to include certain components, even if the features aren’t fully baked yet, as a means of futureproofing. For instance, we’ve yet to see the rumoured AirTags and yet newer devices like the Apple Watch Series 6, HomePod mini, and the iPhone 11 and 12 lineups, all contain the U1 ultra-wideband chip. Furthermore, competing smart speakers like the Amazon Echo 4th gen also have temperature sensors.
Enabling the temperature sensor would definitely help Apple shore up its dismal smart home offerings. While more smart home gadgets have adopted HomeKit, Apple’s smart home protocol, it still pales in comparison to the number of doodads that support Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Part of that was because Apple didn’t really get into the smart home game until the original HomePod in 2018 — which it unceremoniously discontinued earlier this month. Another big reason is that, while Siri has improved in recent years, Apple’s digital assistant is still dumber than a bag of rocks. Yet another problem is that Apple spent so long shutting out third-party music streaming in favour of Apple Music, a position that the company has only recently reversed. (You could technically always use AirPlay 2, but it defeats the purpose of having a smart speaker and digital assistant when a Bluetooth speaker does the same thing.)
This, of course, is all dependent on Apple bringing that secret sensor to life via some kind of software update. As for when that’ll be, who can truly say. There’s a rumoured event slated for April, and theoretically, Apple could tack on a HomePod mini update. WWDC 2021 is also another candidate. However, the most likely opportunity would be around fall, when Apple trots out its next-generation of product launches. That’s a mighty long time to wait — especially when you consider how far behind Apple is in the smart home. Then again, the Cupertino-based company has never cared about being first to anything, and for whatever reason, HomePod stans probably don’t care too much about waiting. I just wouldn’t count on it being too soon.