Apple HomePod Mini gets HomeKit Bluetooth within your reach — and your budget

4 min readNov 2, 2020
HomePod is a great HomeKit Hub and BLE repeater

The Bluetooth Conundrum

Bluetooth low energy (BLE) smart home devices can make outfitting your smart home easier.

BLE is low power, so a small battery can power wireless motion detectors, door or window sensors, water leak detectors, temperature probes, air quality monitors, physical buttons or dimmers, and many other convenient devices for a long time.

They may not be as sexy or headline grabbing as security cameras, smart locks, and smart lighting, but these “you want fries with that” accessories for home automation are the backbone of many working systems.

Sensors put the “smart” into smart home. Truly automated actions require events or triggers to initiate them and the plethora of BLE sensors provides a rich set of building blocks to choose amongst.

But BLE has a big problem — a relatively short range when used indoors. There’s a lot of “it depends” waffling, even from the chip manufacturers themselves.

It is common to only get good communication within 5 to 15 feet, although BLE devices can work between 2 or 3 rooms in a typical house, depending upon wall and building materials.

If you are using personal devices such as BLE headphones or earbuds, a fitness tracker on your wrist, or even a smart bathroom or kitchen scale, the range is usually not a problem because you are right next to the device.

Most BLE devices were intended to communicate with your smartphone which you have in your hand.

The smart home poses a big problem — sensors need to work as a system, not just in close proximity to your smartphone or tablet.

Apple HomeKit Hidden BLE Repeaters

Apple HomeKit has a workaround that has existed since 2017. If you have a HomeKit Hub in your smart home setup, the hub can act as a BLE range extender or repeater.

Any HomeKit BLE certified devices close to the HomeKit Hub will communicate directly with the hub. The device information and control will be available in HomeKit from anywhere and beyond typical BLE range.

Let’s take a straightforward example. If you have installed an AppleTV in your family room or media room and enabled the HomeKit Hub capability, then you are all set.

If you have a BLE motion sensor or a window sensor in the same room (or nearby), The device information and controls will be available in HomeKit even when you are not in the same room.

You can be in any room in your home, in the backyard or front yard, or even miles away using HomeKit remote access, and still see the real-time status of the HomeKit BLE sensors and use them in HomeKit automation sequences.

The AppleTV is acting as both a HomeKit hub and a BLE-to-network bridge for the BLE devices close to it.

The more the merrier

If you live in an apartment or small home, no judgement, but you’re all set. Those of us in larger homes with multiple floors or rooms are still stuck.

Only the BLE sensors or devices close to the AppleTV, which for many of us is limited to 10 to 15 feet in the same room, will be bridged into HomeKit without the dreaded “No response” error message sometimes appearing in the Apple Home App.

Fortunately, Apple has been very clever in implementing the proprietary hub features of HomeKit. We can have multiple HomeKit hubs in our home consisting of AppleTV’s, Apple HomePods, and even iPads running as makeshift HomeKit hubs (if they are left plugged in and turned on).

HomeKit only allows one active hub and will automatically place all the other hubs in the same home into standby mode. That’s useful — if a HomePod is turned off or an AppleTV is rebooted, one of the other HomeKit hub devices will automatically switch from standby to active mode.

The “secret sauce” with BLE and HomeKit Hubs

Here’s the magical tip that isn’t promoted by Apple and many Geeks or HomeKit experts don’t know: All the HomeKit Hubs in your hub, even those on standby, are still active BLE repeaters and range extenders.

So the more AppleTV’s, HomePods, or even iPads with hub mode enabled you sprinkle throughout your home, the wider the reach of your BLE sensors and devices.

Technically the HomeKit hubs are proprietary BLE bridges. They only work with HomeKit certified BLE devices and will not work with any other BLE products.

This BLE repeater/range extension feature is private to Apple HomeKit and is not the wished for and someday we’ll have, industry standard Bluetooth mesh that will solve this problem industry-wide. But until then…

Finally, an affordable option

Apple’s new HomePod Mini is a smaller and affordable version of the HomePod that sells for $99.

This is a great option to expand BLE coverage to your entire home and finally use BLE sensors and devices reliably.

The HomePod Mini is small enough to hide-in-plain-sight or tuck away in closets, pantries, or utility closets to gain the coverage you need.

I’ve experimented in the past with “headless” AppleTV’s as BLE repeaters, but it wasn’t easy to setup or manage.

HomePod’s were a viable alternative as they don’t need a display and can be configured and controlled from the Home App, but very pricy if only being used to extend the range of BLE devices.

As a bonus, HomePod Mini is also an excellent voice controlled smart speaker, so although $99 is still a little pricy for just a BLE repeater, it does more than that and provides an affordable hub solution for HomeKit too.




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