Apple unveils an Amazon Echo competitor

During Jobs' last decade, Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad - all huge commercial successes that both reshaped daily life and swamped previous digital music players, smartphones and tablets.

Now it's going after a bigger target: your home.

Originally rumored to be called Siri Speaker, the HomePod is a smart speaker with Wi-Fi capabilities meant to compete against Amazon Echo devices and Google Home-although it will be significantly more expensive.

The HomePod adjusts the sound according to where it's placed in the room and comes with six microphones to ensure easy control with voice commands over Siri, even with loud music on.

To start with, the current iMac family got new internals.

The conference is typically devoted to software updates and this year, Apple released a series of new features and updates for the iPhone, the iPad, Mac and the Apple Watch - including an augmented-reality kit for developers aimed at making the iPhone "the largest AR platform in the world".

The HomePod, which will be released in white and space grey color variants, will cost you $349, which is significantly higher than its rival speakers such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and others, which cost around $250. Users will also be available to control smart home products such as connected lighting by speaking to Siri through the HomePod.

On the plus side, the introduction of an Apple-designed speaker into what was an Alexa-controlled market could be one more catalyst for the voice-controlled industry. "It definitely puts a dent into Google Home".




During Monday's WWDC keynote, Apple spent more time playing up the speaker's music and audio capabilities and barely mentioned that it's a new way to experience Siri. The HomePod, in comparison, was the best of both worlds. All communications are encrypted.

More than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than doubling from last year, according the research firm eMarketer. Amazon also has the Echo Dot, a budget version of the Echo that starts at $49.99. A few years ago Amazon, which sells its Fire Stick to connect TVs to internet-delivered programming, stopped selling the Apple TV and Google's Chromecast.

A survey released last month by research firm eMarketer found Echo speakers held 70.6 percent of the USA market, compared with 23.8 percent for Google Home.

This has been one major area in consumer electronics lacking Apple's footprint. Although it was the first smartphone maker to come out with a digital assistant when Siri debuted in 2011, it hasn't had a stand-alone assistant.

Apple is also bringing the ability to send money to friends or other people through its payment service, Apple Pay. But Apple was careful to frame it as a product focused on music first - potentially differentiating it from the Echo and Home. Apple HomePod can be paired with Apple iPhone 5s and above, and any devices running iOS 11.

At the very least, Apple does excel at handsome design.

What may hobble Apple's HomePod won't be the noise it makes, but its less impressive listening skills. The MacBook's also got new I/O options with Thunderbolt 3. (We'll go with "smart speakers" for now.) But all the terms refer to the same basic idea: a speaker that sits somewhere in your home that you interact with mainly through voice, whether that's asking it to play music or to give you the weather forecast.

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