HomePod mini finally gets ultra-wideband update — here's what you can do with it

apple music
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has finally updated its HomePod mini smart speaker with ultra-wideband (UWB) handoff functionality, allowing iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 owners to get more out of their HomePod minis than ever before.

UWB handoff, which allows the more recent iPhones to transfer content and calls between handset and speaker, was originally promised when the HomePod mini first launched in 2019. After missing the then-promised 2020 release window, Apple has now added the functionality in tandem with its latest iOS 14.4 update.

While both the HomePod mini and the original HomePod both previously supported basic handoff features, such as transferring a currently-playing song from an iPhone to the speaker, only the HomePod mini includes Apple’s U1 ultra-wideband chip. As such, it’s the only one to receive the expanded features.

These features range from new haptic effects when playing transferred music on the speaker to the iPhone producing a personalized list of suggested tracks when held near the HomePod mini. Holding your phone close to the HomePod mini will also now make media controls appear on the iPhone's screen without the need to unlock the phone.

Again, you’ll specifically need an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 device (including variants like the iPhone 12 Pro) running iOS 14.4 for the new UWB tricks to work. 

But despite these restrictions, and the fact that the update was so drastically delayed, it’s good to see Apple giving one of its cheapest products major new functions. Making it easier for users to access HomePod mini playback controls is a particularly smart move, given how fiddly the onboard, tap-based controls can be.

Expect to also see UWB tech in the long-rumored Apple AirTags, which will likely use the same U1 chip as the HomePod mini. According to a demonstration at Apple’s WWDC 2020, UWB  can locate other UWB items with much greater accuracy than Bluetooth, the technology favored by existing key finders like Tile.  

James Archer

James is currently Hardware Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, but before that was Audio Editor at Tom’s Guide, where he covered headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also wrote computing and gaming news for TG, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.