New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

by Edgar Hayes June 6, 2017, 5:42

Apple will go head-to-head with rivals Amazon and Google, as the USA tech giant throws its hat into the growing smart home arena.

Apple CEO Tim Cook waves to the crowd at the end of his keynote speech at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on June 13, 2016. The unit is powered by the same A8 processor as used by the iPhone 6, and will be available in Space Grey and White. Only after gabbing on and on about its sound quality and elegance did he throw up a final slide of the limited range of non-music voice assistance HomePod can provide.

Today, Apple is holding its Worldwide Developers Conference.

Unlike those other smart speakers, Apple is positioning the HomePod primarily as a way to listen to and discover new songs and artists. The HomePod is created to work along with Apple Music, so it essentially requires one to have a subscription to music streaming service, which will give access to over 40 million songs.

Chief among those innovations is the Homepod, Apple's answer to Amazon's Echo and Google's Google Home.

HomePod includes Siri voice integration and will function as a "home assistant", according to Schiller.

The Homepod, which stands at a mere seven inches tall, will integrate with Apple's Homekit apps, allowing users to adjust air conditioning, lighting, and more. Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes.

Apple HomePod will be available in December and it will be initially launching in the US, UK and Australia, we're guessing because of language support.

The announcement marks a detente of sorts between the two companies, which have been locked in a streaming rivalry for years. By saying, "Hey Siri, I like this song", HomePod and Apple Music become the ideal musicologist, learning preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists, and these music tastes are shared across devices.

At the moment, Siri only works with six types of app, including ride hailing and sharing services, messaging and calling, photo searches, payments, fitness and in-car entertainment and information services.

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. HomePod is also slightly more expensive than both the Amazon Echo and Google Home, retailing at $349.

Although Siri would likely be a centerpiece of a smart speaker from Apple, Moorhead said the device's design, colors and acoustics will also likely be focal points because the company has a long history of making elegantly designed products. It will also offer "virtual surround sound" technology. The device will start at $649 and start shipping next week. The manufacturing duties have apparently been handled by the same company that makes the iPhone 7's AirPods, with the devices being tested by Apple employees in secret.

From a business perspective for Apple, this another opportunity to keep users within its closed network of products. It will come in December starting at about $5,000.

The Amazon Echo is powered by Alexa, an AI core built on AWS' cloud infrastructure.

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 has its own voice-activated gadget called Home. It's the time of year where the world's biggest technology company touts new software and teases new hardware ahead of its big product launches in the fall. It will block videos that start playing automatically, for instance, and can also prevent ads from following and profiling users.

But it's more about the tech than the name.

With an upcoming software update for iPhones and iPads, Siri will learn your habits based on what articles you might be reading, for instance.

Apple is porting its Apple File System to macOS.

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