Apple Joins Smart-Speaker Race With Music-Focused 'HomePod'

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

That's it! It's very similar to Google's speaker/assistant combo, Home, in this respect.

Apple is expected to unveil new features for its Apple Watch as its Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off on Monday.

One of the things Apple wants is to make the HomePod addressable from anywhere in the room, even if there's music playing fairly loudly. The device is covered in black or white mesh and looks like the top of a microphone.

Wireless speakers are a booming tech category at present and are seen as a gateway into turning our homes into "smart" homes. But when you're telling us that all AirPlay 2.0 speakers will be controllable by Siri and any AirPlay speaker can be accessed and grouped by the Home app, we should probably spend a few minutes on that.

Apple's narrower focus, however, could become a problem, said Matt McIlwain, a venture capitalist with Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group.

Since the launch of Amazon's Echo a year ago and Google Home in March, both of which have been popular with consumers, Apple had been widely expected to enter the market. Apple also announced a new macOS dubbed "High Sierra" that should please Mac users on both the professional and consumer side.

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Displaying a Sonos product to show speakers that were, in Cook's words, "speakers but not smart", and an Amazon Echo to show something that was "smart, but not a speaker", HomePod is meant to be both. So far, interest in VR has been strongest among gamers, developers and hardware makers rather than everyday users.

Apple also introduced new elements for its upcoming iOS 11 mobile software that include the ability for person to person payments via Apple Pay, a male voice option for Siri, and the equivalent of an out of office message for texts while driving.

The HomePod features a total of eight speakers - seven beam-forming tweeters and an upward-facing 4-inch woofer.

"I do think there's the perception that Siri's been left behind, and they've been left behind with the devices", says Recode Executive Editor Kara Swisher.

The device would be used to control internet-enabled products around home, as well as answer queries and provide news, weather and schedule updates. It is something of a surprise, then, that the HomePod does not have an on-board display.

Apple is trying to make augmented reality a reality with new tools for iPhones and iPads. For instance, Apple initially resisted enlarging the size of iPhone's screen despite strong sales for larger-display phones made by Samsung and other rivals. The most popular paid apps are usually games. A kaleidoscope face shows trippy animations, and new Toy Story character watch faces let Woody tell you the time.

The new iPad Pro will have a 10.5-inch screen, placing it between the current 9.7 and 13-inch screens of Apple's flagship tablet. Although the format is not exclusive to Apple, it's not yet clear how well the photos will work with non-Apple software and devices, which mostly use JPEG.

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