Published: Thu, June 08, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jose Becker

New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

HomePod, Apple Music and Siri deliver the best music experience in the home that streams ad-free directly to HomePod.

When Amazon released the Amazon Echo at the end of 2014, its success took almost everyone by surprise.

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HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a attractive speaker that is less than 7 inches tall, can rock most any room with distortion-free music and be a helpful assistant around your home.

Amazon has first-mover advantage.

The enormous success of the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers had fuelled rumours Apple would enter the market.

Alexa's other advantage is in third-party skills, the list of which is continually growing. It's since improved, and Google seems committed for the long haul, but it's struggling to make up lost ground.

Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller speaks during the opening keynote address the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) at the San Jose Convention Center on June 5, 2017 in San Jose, California.

Apple has not confirmed the price of the HomePod for the UK. But I did notice the HomePod was able fill a large room very well and sounded great no matter what angle I was listening from, which Apple says is possible because the HomePod is smart enough to intelligently tune itself and balance the audio to match any room or position you put it in.

The company unveiled the "Homepod" Monday, a voice-activated, internet connected speaker that expands usage of the company's Siri voice assistant.

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

The HomePod will go on sale later this year and costs $349.

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Virtual reality has been described as the next big thing for decades.

By going only for the higher end of the market, Apple continues ceding some early smart home turf to its competitors, despite a wide-open opportunity.

There's two ways of looking at this. Google clearly sees voice as a major component to the future of search, and that's why it's been so aggressive about getting into this nascent space. It delivers powerful sounds and adapts to its surroundings.

The newest version of the Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 4, will come bundled with a new Siri watch face that integrates personalized recommendations directly within the experience. Like every element of Apple's smart home strategy so far, the function is there if you want it, but Apple doesn't really expect you to use it. After all, there were computers with graphical user interfaces before the Macintosh, MP3 players before the iPod, smartphones before the iPhone.

Apple has announced the much-awaited new iMac Pro. It will also work with Apple services such as Messages and its smart home appliance platform, HomeKit.

And that might be good news for both Apple and Amazon. It was a disaster and quickly pulled from store shelves. Per consulting firm Strategy Analytics, smart speakers sales were up by almost 600 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, with 4.2 million smart speakers sold in the fourth quarter (about 88 percent of those were Amazon products, and 10 percent were Google).

Apple Pay: It's expanding to include peer-to-peer payments. They can call. I hope there is a day when that happens.

There's still a lot of unknowns.

HomePod is compatible with Apple Music and can easily access full playlist on the app. Will it work with non-iOS devices at all? The Siri Speaker may be more of a living room device than a kitchen device.

"Though Apple appears to be playing catch up with Amazon and Google, the primary casualty here may be Sonos".

Apple "can't afford to yield valuable real-estate in the heart of people's homes to Amazon, Google and others", said Geoff Blaber, research analyst at CCS Insight. But while that sharp-elbowed competition can be tough on companies, it's ultimately good for the consumer. It'll act as a smart-home hub for smart-home hubs. The question is whose speaker it'll be.

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