Apple Rolls Out Promised Intercom Feature for HomePod and HomePod Mini Smart Speakers
Apple has officially launched the Intercom feature for sending messages between its HomePod smart speaker line it first announced at its hardware event last week. The addition is part of a package of updates for the HomePod and the new HomePod mini, which also debuted last week.
The Intercom feature creates a connection between multiple HomePods and HomePod minis in a single home. When activated, a user can speak a message to one smart speaker and ask Siri have it play from every other Apple smart speaker in the home, or just in one room, if the receiving HomePod has been designated as the kitchen or living room device, for instance. One notable aspect is the conversational language that Siri understands to mean that the user is invoking Intercom. The user can start a sentence by saying, “Hey Siri, Intercom,” followed by the message, but could also use the phrase “tell everyone.” In response, people in the home hearing the message can say, “Hey Siri, reply,” and state what they want the first messenger to hear.
Besides the language used, the Intercom feature is essentially the same as the similarly named features for Amazon Echo and Google Nest smart speakers and displays, except that Apple’s rivals have offered a variation on this kind of broadcast for several years, with the more targeted messages becoming an option afterward. This week’s update is limited to just the smart speakers, but Apple has promised to expand the feature to other Apple devices. At some point, Apple claims you’ll be able to make an announcement to a HomePod or HomePod mini, and have it repeated on your family’s iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and in cars with Apple CarPlay. Apple will one-up Amazon and Google in that regard as and when the broader ecosystem messaging comes into play.
“I see Intercom as a part of Apple’s Voice First platform as they move to SiriOS,” voice tech expert Brian Roemmele told Voicebot in an interview last week when the Intercom feature was first announced. “Intercom is part of a new way to interact with Siri. Speech to text and text to speech to all Apple devices among a close-knit social network.”
The update to HomePod software incorporates other abilities officially announced at the event that weren’t available yet into the smart speakers. The smart speakers can now set times and alarms, support multi-user podcast listening, report on local traffic, and find nearby businesses using a closer connection to Google Maps. That integration gives the smart speakers a stronger link to iPhones, too, meaning if you ask a HomePod about a restaurant or other business, Siri will suggest setting a route on your iPhone’s map that will begin when you get in a car.
There are more features for the smart speakers that Apple is working on but hasn’t released yet, including a way to connect HomePods to Apple TVs. The biggest element still missing, though, is the “What’s My Update” feature that Siri is supposed to be able to answer by gathering and sharing information on local weather, personal calendar data, reminders, and other details. Apple hasn’t mentioned a reason for the delay on these features. The central goal was likely to deploy the software update before the HomePod mini becomes available to buy on Nov. 6 and before it starts to ship on Nov. 16. Apple clearly sees the $99 HomePod mini as a key element for its smart home strategy, so making sure the Intercom and other features are functional will be important if, as Roemmele predicts, the HomePod mini will be one of the top 10 best-selling devices for Apple.