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New HomePod Mini colors expose how stale Apple’s smart home lineup has become

Apple excels in many areas, particularly with regard to its computing lineup. The company produces mobile computing solutions miles beyond what its competition has to offer. The same could be said about its iPhone. Despite this, Apple is lagging behind in the smart home space. When the most exciting announcement about Apple’s presence in the smart home space is a few new colors for the HomePod Mini, something is wrong.

HomeKit has the potential to be a major name in the smart home field. Given how prevalent iOS technology is in day-to-day life, it honestly should be already. Instead, HomeKit compatibility tends to be an afterthought for most tech. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant dominate the playing field. HomeKit has fallen so far behind that it’s not even in the same stadium anymore. The development of Thread has the potential to change this, but the end result remains to be seen.

Apple could do a lot with just a few improvements.

Apple needs a deeper core product lineup

Take a look at Amazon and Google. Although their smart assistants are the best of the best, the companies expand their presence beyond that. Amazon has several major products and product lines that bring customers into their ecosystem.

From smart speakers to smart displays, Amazon’s Echo product line covers the gamut. Ring is an Amazon brand, but recognizable enough to stand on its own as a security camera maker. Blink is a budget-friendly brand that appeals to consumers that have less disposable income to spend on their smart home.

Google also holds a presence here through the popular Nest moniker. Between the Nest Hub Max, Nest Audio, and various thermostats and security cameras, there are Nest customers that don’t realize smart home tech exists outside of that name.

Apple HomePod mini smart speaker size comparison
John Velasco / Digital Trends

Apple doesn’t have any dedicated smart home product. Sure, there are numerous third-party devices built specifically for HomeKit, but none have the brand recognition that Nest or Ring have behind them. None of these products provide that level of utility. It’s tough to fathom because Apple is capable of moving into new product categories and dominating them. The AirPods are a clear example of this, becoming a force in the audio space in just a short span.

If Apple wants to compete and level the playing field, it needs a core smart home product lineup in the same league besides just smart speakers. Apple could make a smart display that utilizes Siri to a greater degree. In fact, it could look similar to the quick HomeKit access that’s already present in iOS. Adding security cameras or a smart plug could also be an easy way to begin building a brand.

Leverage Siri more

One of the main issues with HomeKit is that Siri is so useless. That might be a harsh thing to say, but compared to the intelligence of Alexa and Google Assistant, Siri feels a lot like a precocious toddler.

Apple needs to leverage Siri more and expand her capabilities to be on par with those of Alexa and Google Assistant. Siri can now do slightly more than she could before in the form of reminders, but it still isn’t enough. Question-and-answer abilities like Google Assistant, combined with the overall utility of Amazon Alexa, would make Siri a much more useful assistant, particularly considering her presence in every iOS device on the market today.

Another approach Apple could take is making an Apple TV that is a true, genuine command center for the smart home. It should be able to display the status of every connected device and allow users to control them through Siri, or through on-screen controls.

Adding more hubs to the mix

HomeKit requires a hub for remote control of its devices. This isn’t that unusual; after all, Amazon and Google both use a similar system. The problem is that both Amazon and Google have affordable entry points for smart home hubs. The Echo Dot can routinely be found for $35, while the Nest Mini averages about $50.

HomeKit has three hub options: The HomePod Mini ($100), the Apple TV ($150), or an iPad ($200-plus). None of these devices are as affordable as the competition, and the iPad isn’t even a smart home device. There are no third-party hubs, either. At least with Google, you could use a Lenovo smart display to act as a smart home hub.

Apple TV multi-camera view

The HomeKit hub needs to see a dramatic change, either in the form of affordability or in the form of more products that can act as a hub. No one should need to invest in an Apple TV or HomePod Mini to control their HomeKit devices from afar, especially when Siri doesn’t provide enough functionality to make it worthwhile.

Apple is sitting on a gold mine

Apple is known for its revolutionary approaches and products. HomeKit is already utilizing Thread to a greater extent than other companies in the smart home space, and Thread is likely the next major breakthrough in smart home technology.

If Apple could diversify its core smart home portfolio, it has the potential to completely change the way we approach smart home tech. After all, Apple already works within an integrated system — I can start something on my iPhone and access it easily on my Mac. I receive the same notifications across my Watch that I do on iPhone and iPad. HomeKit could be used to notify me of texts, read them aloud, and give me hands-free access to many of my most commonly used applications on the fly.

HomeKit devices are also one of the easiest to set up, often requiring nothing more than using Apple’s Home app without being required to use another app. Apple sits atop a mountain of potential, but it seems like the company has been stagnant. Its current improvements rest solely in the realm of new colors or small features, but a concerted effort could catapult Apple to the same level as Amazon and Google — or even beyond.

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Patrick Hearn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Patrick Hearn writes about smart home technology like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, smart light bulbs, and more. If it's a…
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