Apple Unveils 'HomePod' Speaker, First New Product in Years

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Apple has unveiled a smart speaker to rival the Amazon Echo and Google Home as the tech giant said it wanted to "reinvent home music".

Apple introduces HomePod during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose.

HomePod will come in two colors at launch: white and space gray. Apple's been lagging behind in terms of professional-quality hardware in recent years, with its last high-performance desktop model, the MacPro, landing with a thud back in 2013. In fact, it's powered by an A8 chip, the same as what's inside your iPhone.

HomePod is created to work with the Apple Music subscription service and can produce rich sound while tapping into the artificial intelligence power of Siri.

At $349, it will be more expensive than Google Home ($109) and Amazon Echo ($179) but cheaper than the Sonos Play 5 ($499).

Six microphones to hear your commands: Just say "Hey Siri" and ask it to tell you the weather and sports scores and, of course, play your music. It will be priced at $349 in the USA, with local pricing announced later in the year. Once you've said that command, it sends an anonymous Siri ID and encrypted communications to and from Apple's servers.

Apple's annual conference for app developers begins Monday in San Jose, California.

The speaker, while expected by some industry watchers, marked Apple's first new product announcement since the Apple Watch in September 2014.

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Still, the Apple Watch hasn't been a smash hit, fueling worries that the company's ability to transfix customers had waned after the 2011 death of co-founder Steve Jobs.

Apple also may introduce its next Mac computer, along with the next operating system powering the machine.

In a nod to Amazon streaming fans, Apple is also bringing Amazon Prime to its Apple TV app. It will also offer "virtual surround sound" technology. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for development virtual-reality "experiences". It would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015.

The Amazon Echo is powered by Alexa, an AI core built on AWS' cloud infrastructure. "A smart speaker utilizing an underachieving voice assistant could dampen interest in the product".

Google Now has been part of the company's ecosystem for a while now, but it's now been upgraded to become the Google assistant. Google already tries to be proactive with its Assistant on Android phones and Google Home speaker. This is what is rumoured to be underpinning Apple's smart assistant product. In the U.S. it will cost $US349 ($466), more than twice the price of its Google competitor. There's also a 12.9in version that starts at $799.

Google Home, as the name would suggest, appears much more domestic in its appeal.

In its current incarnation, Apple's HomeKit system is software only.

Amazon's Echo commands 70.6 percent of the US market and Google Home has 23.8 percent, according to a recent eMarketer report. However, given Apple's design pedigree, we'd expect it to knock both its competitors into a cocked hat from a purely visual standpoint.

What form this hardware will take, if it exists at all, is still unknown.

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