Apple just unveiled HomePod, a $349 competitor to Amazon's Echo

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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", says Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

Some industry insiders, however, note Apple will be under more pressure to improve the computing smarts of its Siri software in the face of offerings from rivals Google and Amazon. These giants are battling over still-emerging fields that are expected to turn into technological gold mines, much the way personal computers and smartphones became moneymaking machines in previous decades. Like Google, Apple saw the Amazon Echo and chose to jump into the home assistant/speaker space.

Apple on Monday unveiled its "HomePod" speaker as it moved to challenge Amazon Alexa and Google Home as a smart home and music hub. Finally, the HomePod has been designed for use with an Apple Music subscription for access to over 40 million songs. If Apple wants to be more than a hardware company, it needs to break out of its profit game sometimes. Siri waveform will display on the top of HomePod to indicate if it is engaged.

The speaker will sell for about $350 in December in the USA, United Kingdom and Australia.

The Echo, released in 2015, and Google Home, released past year, were the first entrants in a promising market. Apple typically makes major updates to its Mac software every other year.

Apple vice president Phil Schiller said the company's Siri team had tuned the assistant into a "musicologist" that learns the tastes of listeners and gets songs from the internet cloud.

A set of iOS 11 features including enabling smartphone cameras to read QR codes are aimed at the China market, where Apple would like to bolster iPhone sales.

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Amazon has dominated the category of connected speakers since 2014 when it introduced its first Echo, which responds to voice commands and allows users to order goods or rides and control connected appliances.

The price is quite a jump from Google's $129 Home and Amazon's $180 full-sized Echo. Microsoft also has announced its own speaker with Samsung's Harman business; it will use Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant. The refreshed MacBook Air, MacBook and MacBook Pro began shipping on Monday.

The company rolled out new tools for developers to create augmented reality applications for iPhones and iPads.

Safari, Apple's web browser, seeks to make users' online experience smoother and less annoying. It will block videos that start playing automatically, for instance, and can also prevent ads from following and profiling users. Reading between the lines, there may be a slight admission here that HomePod might not be the smartest speaker on the block, but it will certainly sound the best. It's part of Apple's effort to entice professionals with tablets that can handle many tasks previously reserved for laptops. Little information was given on how Apple will store or protect data gleaned by the system, but the corporation has a relatively clean record in this area.

Apple also offered some hints about new capabilities in the next iPhone, including so-called augmented reality, in which digital information is overlaid on real-world images.

Taking direct aim at services like those provided by PayPal Holdings Inc, Apple also debuted peer-to-peer payments for Apple Pay in which users will be able to send money through the Messages app on iPhones.

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