Apple reinvents home audio with the HomePod

The long anticipated Apple rival to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, dubbed Home Pod, has arrived.

"We are so pleased to welcome Amazon to Apple TV", Cook said at the start of his keynote address opening Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which moved this year to the San Jose Convention Center.

When Tim Cook finally arrived at the last of the six "important" announcements Apple was due to make at the Worldwide Developers Conference, a collective sigh of relief resounded at the venue. The Google Home and Amazon Echo are both priced below that but we still don't know the sound differences and capabilities between them.

Apple is updating its smartwatch to give it more "smarts" using the Siri digital assistant. It wakes to "Hey, Siri" and will attempt to answer basic questions and control other devices in addition to playing tunes via Apple Music. Apple also says the little speaker features spatially aware software and is running on the Apple A8 chip.

Unlike those other smart speakers, Apple is positioning the HomePod primarily as a way to listen to and discover new songs and artists.

The conference is typically devoted to software updates and this year, Apple released a series of new features and updates for the iPhone, the iPad, Mac and the Apple Watch - including an augmented-reality kit for developers aimed at making the iPhone "the largest AR platform in the world".

Along with upgraded versions of iPad and Mac laptops, Apple unveiled 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. If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015.

But for now, Apple is stuck hawking sound quality where many mainstream consumers can't tell the difference. Some of the products will be available immediately, others will come later this year.

Apple will begin shipping the HomePod to the United States, Britain and Australia in December. Google Home followed in October and Microsoft's assistant, Cortana, is also finding a home in home speakers.

IDC estimates that Apple shipped about 3.6 million watches during the first three months of the year.

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The lack of a breakthrough device has periodically raised concerns that Apple has become too dependent on the iPhone and supported the theory that the company lost its knack for innovation when its co-founder Steve Jobs died of cancer in 2011. For Apple, having one would further broaden the role that its software, services and gadgets play in people's lives.

But really, this is Apple's admission that it needed to kick the voice command can down the road a bit and strengthen Siri but it goes gunning for Google and Amazon.

  • Gwendolyn Kim