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Apple announces smaller HomePod mini for $99



Apple has announced a new version of its HomePod smart speaker, the $99 HomePod mini — a smaller version of the speaker that shrinks down the original model into a more compact size.

Like the full-size HomePod, the HomePod mini still features a mesh fabric exterior in both black and white colors, along with a small display on top to show the Siri waveform and volume controls. The new model is more of a short, spherical shape, however, instead of the oblong design of the original, and features one main driver, two passive radiators, and an “acoustic waveguide” on the bottom.

The new HomePod mini features an Apple S5 chip, which Apple says allows for “computational audio” processing to adjust how your music sounds 180 times per second. Multiple HomePod mini speakers can also play music in sync, and “intelligently” create stereo pairing when placed in the same room. Apple is also using the U1 chips that it debuted in last year’s iPhones to create a better Handoff experience later this year.

Also coming later this year: Apple’s promised support for third-party music services, a list that will include Pandora, Amazon Music, and iHeartRadio — but notably, not Spotify.

Apple also debuted a new “Intercom” feature that allows for customers with multiple HomePod devices in different rooms to communicate throughout the house. Intercom messages will also appear on connected iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches (although they won’t immediately play out loud, like they do on the HomePod mini.)

The original HomePod cost $349 when it first launched in 2018, making it far more expensive than any of Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home speakers. That high price, combined with the Apple-only limitations of the original (which only worked with Apple Music, a problem that Apple is only now fixing with iOS 14 this fall), made it a tough sell, especially when compared to cheaper and more capable Google and Amazon alternatives.

And while Apple would eventually go on to cut the price of the original HomePod (it now routinely costs $199 on sale), it’s still pricey. The new HomePod mini should help change that by offering similar features to the original but at a far more palatable price point.

That’s a big deal, too, because the HomePod isn’t just a smart speaker — it serves as a central hub for any HomeKit devices, enabling users to control things like their lights or doors when they’re not at home, as well as enabling automation features for Apple’s Home app. A more accessible HomePod doesn’t just provide more ways for Apple to get Siri and Apple Music into people’s homes, it helps expand Apple’s entire presence as part of your smart home setup.

The HomePod mini will cost $99. Preorders start on November 6th, with shipping on November 16th.

Developing… we’re adding more to this post, but you can follow along with our Apple iPhone 12 live blog to get the news even faster.


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Apple updates HomePod with intercom and other new features



Apple’s HomePod smart speaker is getting some new capabilities thanks to a software update that’s available today as part of iOS 14.1. These were announced during the company’s event earlier this month, and some of the features — especially the intercom function — go a long way in helping the HomePod catch up with Amazon Echo and Google / Nest speakers.

Intercom lets you record a message on one HomePod and send it to another (or several others) in your house. This is something you can already do with an Echo, but later this year, Apple is going beyond what those other smart speakers can do by expanding intercom to include your iPhone, iPad, AirPods, Apple Watch, and CarPlay. So you’ll be able to record a message from pretty much anywhere and relay it to the people you live with. But again, that part’s not coming until later; for now, it’s just HomePod-to-HomePod intercom.

Today’s update includes more than intercom, though. If you ask Siri for traffic conditions or nearby points of interest, you’ll now see a Siri Suggestion when you get into the car and open Map, making that information more easily accessible through CarPlay. You can now set multiple named timers and stop them from a different HomePod in another room. And the HomePod’s multi-user support now works for Podcasts, so voice recognition will make sure the right episode plays when someone says “Hey Siri, continue my podcast.” And last, you can tell Siri on the HomePod to search the web for something and forward those results along to your iPhone.

More HomePod features will arrive before the end of 2020. In addition to the expanded intercom functionality, you’ll be able to ask for your personal update, and Siri will go through the news, weather, your calendar appointments, and so on. That’s another thing that will help the HomePod stay at par with other smart speakers. And you’ll be able to use the full-size HomePod — not the mini, sadly — as a home theater speaker for Apple TV 4K with support for 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos audio. I’m very curious to hear how that sounds with two HomePods paired together.


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Equity Shot: The DoJ, Google, and the suit could mean for startups



Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

It’s a big day in tech because the US Federal Government is going after Google on anti-competitive grounds. Sure, the timing appears crassly political and the case is not picking up huge plaudits thus far for its air-tightness, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it.

So Danny and I got on the horn to chat it up for about 10 minutes to fill you in. For reference, you can read the full filing here, in case you want to get your nails in. It’s not a complicated read. Get in there.

As a pair we dug into what stood out from the suit, what we think about the historical context, and also noodled at the end about what the whole situation could mean for startups; it’s not all good news, but adding lots of competitive space to the market would be a net-good for upstart tech companies in the long-run.

And consumers. Competition is good.

You can read TechCrunch’s early coverage of the suit here, and our look at the market’s reaction here. Let’s go!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.


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7 investors discuss augmented reality and VR startup opportunities in 2020



For all of the investors preaching that augmented reality technology will likely be the successor to the modern smartphone, today, most venture capitalists are still quite wary to back AR plays.

The reasons are plentiful, but all tend to circle around the idea that it’s too early for software and too expensive to try to take on Apple or Facebook on the hardware front.

Meanwhile, few spaces were frothier in 2016 than virtual reality, but most VCs who gambled on VR following Facebook’s Oculus acquisition failed to strike it rich. In 2020, VR did not get the shelter-in-place usage bump many had hoped for largely due to supply chain issues at Facebook, but VCs hope their new cheaper device will spell good things for the startup ecosystem.

To get a better sense of how VCs are looking at augmented reality and virtual reality in 2020, I reached out to a handful of investors who are keeping a close watch on the industry:

Some investors who are bullish on AR have opted to focus on virtual reality for now, believing that there’s a good amount of crossover between AR and VR software, and that they can make safer bets on VR startups today that will be able to take advantage of AR hardware when it’s introduced.

“Besides Pokémon Go I don’t think we have seen the engagement numbers needed for AR,” Boost VC investor Brayton Williams tells TechCrunch. “We believe VR is still the largest long-term opportunity of the two. AR complements the real world, VR creates endless new worlds.”

Most of the investors I got in contact with were still fairly active in the AR/VR world, but many still disagreed whether the time was right for VR startups. For Jacob Mullins of Shasta Ventures, “It’s still early, but it’s no longer too early.” While Gigi Levy-Weiss of NFX says that the market is “sadly not happening yet,” Facebook’s Quest headsets have shown promise.

On the hardware side, the ghost of Magic Leap’s formerly hyped glory still looms large. Few investors are interested in making a hardware play in the AR/VR world, noting that startups don’t have the resources to compete with Facebook or Microsoft on a large-scale rollout. “Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation,” General Catalyst’s Niko Bonatsos tells us.

Even those that are still bullish on startups making hardware plays for more niche audiences acknowledge that life had gotten harder for ambitious founders in these spaces, “the spectacular flare-outs do make it harder for companies to raise large amounts with long product release horizons,” investor Tipatat Chennavasin notes.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Niko Bonatsos, General Catalyst

What are your general impressions on the health of the AR/VR market today?

We’re seeing some progress in VR and some of that is happening because of the Oculus ecosystem. They continue to improve the hardware and have a growing catalog of content. I think their onboarding and consumption experience is very consumer-friendly and that’s going to continue to help with adoption. On the consumer side, we’re seeing some companies across gaming, fitness and productivity that are earning and retaining their audiences at a respectable rate. That wasn’t happening even a year ago so it may be partially a COVID lift but habits are forming. 

The VR bets of several years ago have largely struggled to pan out, if you were to make a startup investment in this space today what would you need to see? 

Companies to watch are the ones that are creating cool experiences with mobile as the first entry point. Wave VR, Rec Room, VRChat are making it really easy for consumers to get a taste of VR with devices they already own. They’re not treating VR as just another gaming peripheral but as a way to create very cool, often celebrity-driven, content. These are the kinds of innovations that makes me optimistic about the VR category in general.

Most investors I chat with seem to be long-term bullish on AR, but are reticent to invest in an explicitly AR-focused startup today. What do you want to see before you make a play here?

In both AR/VR, a founder needs to be both super ambitious but patient. They’ll need to be flexible in thinking and open to pivoting a few times along the way. Product-market fit is always important but I want to see that they have a plan for customer retention. Fun to try is great, habit-forming is much better. Gaming continues to do pretty well as a category for VC dollars but it’d be interesting to see more founders look at making IRL sports experiences more immersive or figuring out how to enhance remote meeting experiences with VR to fix Zoom fatigue.

There have been a few spectacular flare-outs when it comes to AR/VR hardware investments, is there still a startup opportunity in AR/VR hardware?

Hardware is so capital intensive and this entire industry is dependent on the big players continuing to invest in hardware innovation. Facebook and Microsoft seem to be the main companies willing to spend here while others have backed away. If we expand our thinking for a minute, maybe the first real mainstream breakthrough AR/VR consumer experience isn’t visual. For VR, it might be the mobile experiences. For AR maybe AirPods or AirPod-like devices are the right entry point for consumers. They’re in millions of people’s ears already and who doesn’t want their own special-agent-like earpiece? That’s where founders might find some opportunity.

Tipatat Chennavasin, The Venture Reality Fund


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