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

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Apple's much-anticipated Siri-powered "smart speaker" broke cover overnight at Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose. Rather than exclusively competing with products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, Apple is positioning HomePod as a hybrid product that does more. During the WWDC keynote, Apple's senior VP of marketing Phil Schiller boasted about the HomePod's audio quality, its built-in room sensors, and the integration with Apple Music. Apple said HomePod stands 7 inches tall and will available for $349 in December. The HomePod is planned to launch in December for United States dollars 349 in the US, UK and Australia.

The trend-setting company also is putting new twists on existing products as it delves deeper into virtual reality and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.

Unlike those other smart speakers, Apple is positioning the HomePod primarily as a way to listen to and discover new songs and artists. Apple hasn't confirmed other avenues of connection, but we'd imagine that Bluetooth and AirPlay 2 are part of the package - the inclusion of AirPlay would mean a wide range of services are supported direct from your iPhone or iPad and Apple has said that you'll be able to play your own music, we're just not sure how, yet.

HomePod uses the company's A8 chip, which Apple also uses for its mobile devices. But if Apple introduces a Siri Speaker - which would nearly certainly let users control home appliances with their voice - HomeKit will play an important part.

The HomePod features an array of seven beam-forming tweeters with directional control, a specially designed woofer with automatic bass equalization and dynamic modeling for sound shaping.

It has six microphones that are always listening for the trigger phrase "Hey, Siri".

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Along with upgraded versions of iPad and Mac laptops, Apple provided look at an iMac Pro work station that had the computing built in behind the screen and was touted as the most powerful computer the company has ever made.

It starts shipping later this year in the US, United Kingdom and Australia. Recent offerings such as Google Home and Amazon Echo have not only provided stiff competition but, as the chart shows, are able to far more accurately answer questions.

The Photos app is adding new filters, and Apple says it has improved the face detection feature. The speaker is similar to cheaper devices from Amazon and Google.

Apple earlier introduced a new version of its iPad Pro, as well as a raft of new software updates.

For photos, Apple is turning to a "high efficiency" format to replace the widely used JPEG standard. It's essentially a voice-operated digital assistant, but thanks to machine learning algorithms, it's created to get smarter the more you use it, adapting to your vocabulary, speech patterns, and usage habits.

The new driving mode silences notifications, turns the phone's display off, and can automatically reply to messages to warn friends that you are driving.

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