Apple’s underpromise-and-overdeliver strategy has (mostly) paid off for at least a decade. So it’s not a total surprise that the HomePod mini contained hidden tech Apple didn’t mention in their announcement. What did they stash inside—or better yet, what else could Apple have done with this nondescript gray orb? Today we journey inside, while also making wild speculations.
Since we’re late to the HomePod mini disassembly party, we have the rare luxury of knowing beforehand how to get into this thing. Thanks to MacRumors user ouimetnick and audio-tech site Qucox, we know we won’t need to cut any acoustically transparent mesh today. As always, we’re also happy to have help in the form of an X-ray sneak peek from our friends at Creative Electron.
The dense metal in the primary speaker and passive radiators dominates most of our see-through view inside the HomePod mini. We’re happy to see what looks like a socketed power connection to the main board, and plenty of screws.
After loosening some screws, a little gentle persuasion frees the mesh, so we can pull it up over the mini’s head like a tiny, acoustically-transparent sweater. This is where the frustration started in our full-size HomePod teardown, but on the mini, it’s smooth sailing. Where the larger HomePod was a near-impenetrable capsule of glue, here a simple eight Torx screws and some light adhesive holds the three pieces of the mini’s shell together. (It would be even more convenient if the screws weren’t hidden, but we’ll save our breath.)
The top third of the device carries the touch input digitizer and the acoustically transparent mesh. The mesh is glued down here, but wouldn’t be difficult to replace on its own—we’re still only a few steps into disassembly. Great news for anyone who bought this in white! We’re not sure how acoustically transparent the fabric will be after a trip through the wash, but at the very least you’ll be able to replace it.
Under the light guide that caps the middle section of the Pod is the mini’s logic board.
The stars on the top side of the board are 19 RGB LEDs that project dancing light whenever Siri listens or speaks to you. Hidden among them is a tiny light sensor, and on either side of the group is a Texas Instruments LED driver.
On the board’s inward-facing side, things get interesting. This is classic Apple over-delivering—a logic board this complex in a $99 product would be unheard of for any other company. It’s impossible to miss the four capacitors sticking out here, integrated right into the logic board.
Front and center are Apple’s S5 chip and an accompanying power management IC. This pair lives on a small separate board, which is soldered in a ball grid array to the main board. Why the separation?
With this design, Apple has switched from iPhone silicon in the original HomePod to Watch silicon in the mini. In Apple Watches, the S-series chips are always part of an entire system-in-package that’s trapped in hardened resin, so this is technically our first face-to-face encounter with the S5. Nice to meet you, friend.
Under the logic board, the middle third of the HomePod mini is mostly empty space. When fully assembled, this space is reserved for the speaker driver and those towering capacitors. Around the edges of the midsection ring are two passive radiators. A passive radiator is a clever tool for improving low-frequency (bass) response in small speakers. Rather than using electricity to move, pressure inside the enclosure generated by the active speaker moving air around escapes through the radiator, which vibrates the radiator and generates some extra bass. The two radiators in the HomePod mini flank a shiny silver L-shaped heat sink.
The final third of the HomePod mini is the loudest one. The downward-firing speaker sits right above the cone-shaped sound guide. Those, along with the passive radiators, give the mini its 360-degree sound capabilities.
Our journey might have ended there, had we not heard from Bloomberg about a tiny hardware package in the mini responsible for a yet-to-be-disclosed feature.
Shortly after they tipped us off, we found it: a 1.5-by-1.5-millimeter sensor, near the power cord at the bottom. The sensor, made by Texas Instruments, is an HDC2010 Humidity and Temperature Digital Sensor. The placement is interesting, because, rather than clustered with heat-generating circuitry, it’s about as far as it could be from that hardware. This, along with the carefully-placed hole in the exterior shell that it occupies, makes us think this sensor is meant to measure conditions outside the HomePod mini, rather than inside.
A climate sensor inside a speaker? Maybe, as Bloomberg suspects, this bit is meant to pair up with Apple’s HomeKit smart home controls. For the price, that’s not a bad bonus feature (Google’s temperature sensors for its Nest system cost $40 each). But when we first heard of secret hardware inside the HomePod mini, we had other ideas. Some of them were quite a bit cooler than “Turn the air conditioning down a bit.”
Temperature and humidity play a role in how sound travels, however slight. Apple’s HomePods, both regular and tiny, already have a reputation for putting sound quality ahead of smart home skills. What if Apple could extend their lead by adjusting the mini’s audio output for different characteristics of the surrounding air? It could sound great, or it could be a gimmick. But that’s potentially more groundbreaking than simply telling the EcoBee to move a number up or down.
We won’t know the climate sensor’s true purpose until Apple flips the magic switch, or brags from a virtual stage about how this will change our lives. Until then, we’re glad we dismantled this mini HomePod. It was surprisingly easy, redesigned from its larger forebear, and it gave us something to do instead of wait around for the March 23rd event that never was.