Testing the HomePod Mini’s New U1 Handoff Functionality

Juli Clover, with a nice overview of the new HomePod Mini Handoff features:

If you’re listening to a song on your iPhone 11 or iPhone 12 and bring the phone near the HomePod mini, there are now visual, audio, and haptic effects when the song transfers. As the iPhone gets closer to the HomePod mini’s location, it begins a soft haptic touch rhythm that gets faster and faster as the iPhone continues to approach the HomePod mini. Eventually, the song transfer interface options up, and the song transitions from the iPhone to the mini.

Transferring a song is quicker and more reliable with these visual and haptic-based transfer cues, and there are some other useful changes enabled by the U1 chip too. When an iPhone is held near a HomePod mini, you’ll see personalized listening suggestions and song recommendations.

There’s something special about this feature. I didn’t really think about it much when Apple first talked about it in the October announcement of the HomePod Mini, but now that I’ve used it, I see now that it’s extraordinarily clever user interface design. “User interface” isn’t just what you see on screen. It’s how we, the users, interface with these devices and services. How do you use it? It’s hard to imagine a more obvious way to transfer playback from your iPhone to a HomePod than this.

AirPlay has long supported moving a song or podcast from your phone to a HomePod, and AirPlay 2 was a big improvement in terms of latency and reliability. I think the on-screen UI for controlling AirPlay is pretty good. In the playback controls for whatever you’re listening to, you look for the AirPlay icon, tap it, and you get a list of available sources to choose from. And you can always get it from the system playback controls in Control Center. It’s pretty obvious and pretty consistent.

But “just move your iPhone close to the HomePod” — that’s pretty hard to beat. There’s nothing to hunt for. You can explain it to anyone, and they’ll understand what you mean. And it’s very easy to remember. Maybe you haven’t looked for the AirPlay on-screen menu in a few months and you forget how to get to it. If you don’t use it often it’s easy to forget it’s in Control Center. But “just move your iPhone close to the HomePod”? That’s memorable. The action you take is very physical, not abstract. The haptic feedback makes it feel like a connection is being made. And the U1 chip’s fine-grained proximity detection means you don’t have to worry about it kicking in inadvertently.

This is good design.

Update: Guy English: “The most visceral OK/Cancel dialog I’ve ever seen.”

Wednesday, 3 February 2021