June 28, 2017

Look out Alexa: Apple announces 'HomePod,' a smart home audio speaker

10 June 2017, 04:20 | Kristin Schwartz

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Amazon and Google have been put on notice with the advent of Apple HomePod.

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

In addition to playing music and performing other tasks, the rumored Apple's speaker will also be able to control appliances, locks, lights, and curtains through Siri voice commands.

As for how this works in the real-world, you can use the Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Home for nearly the same things.

Analysts say Apple has been slow to improve its Siri virtual assistant and launch a smart speaker, after Amazon launched its Echo in 2014.

Siri was also front-and-center of Apple's machine-learning, a type of artificial intelligence that helps software adapt to data and recognize patterns automatically.

Unsurprisingly, it also far outstripped an Amazon Echo for sound quality - but both that device and the Google Home are more geared towards AI than sound quality.

Following in Google's footsteps, Siri will also be able to translate and speak phrases from six languages, with more coming later, Apple said.

"Apple has got to have this speaker, because they need Siri to not only be relevant but (to) use Siri as a place where they can add other services and capabilities", said Bob O'Donnell, president of Technalysis Research.

Siri is getting a new voice, and the Mac is getting a new name. If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015.

HomePod capped a keynote presentation at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference that included updates to its iPad and Mac laptop lines, and upgraded operating software enabling augmented reality for iPhones and iPads. Just keep in mind Apple hasn't released the HomePod yet, so the final product may have more to offer.

Apple also showed a sneak peek into a new all-in-one desktop called the iMac Pro.

The HomePod - due to launch in December - looks like a mesh cylinder.

In addition, Cook said Apple, headquartered in Cupertino, Northern California, now has 16 million registered software developers worldwide for its consumer electronics, including smartphone known as iPhone, and 3 million of them were added a year ago. Apple explained the HomePod with a combination of beamforming, advanced algorithms, virtual transparency, room sensing, and musicologist. "They're really looking to make [the iPad pro] a productivity tool".

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.

For instance, if a contact sends you a request for money, Siri will immediately surface the new Apple Pay feature in your messages which allows you to make person-to-person payments, a challenge to PayPal Holdings Inc.'s similar Venmo system.

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