Apple unveils 'HomePod' speaker, first new product in years

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The smartness around music could give the HomePod a significant advantage over the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers.

The speaker is powered by Apple's digital assistant Siri, which is meant to help the user find new music, as well as acting as a general home assistant.

"Just like we did with portable music, we want to reinvent home music", CEO Tim Cook said. Instead, it positioned the product as a more of a smart speaker that is wedded to Apple Music and happens to also have other capabilities thanks to its Siri integration. It will utilise Apple music and Siri to do everything from play music to control other smart home appliances.

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Notably, the new software includes new artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality features.

On the technological side, Apple's virtual demonstration of why HomePod is a superior speaker was all about the device's ability to recognize the space it was filling. Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes. The news was the first of six main announcements made by Apple at today's WWDC keynote. The new speaker establishes a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into these services. Apple says that "only after "Hey Siri" is recognised locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier".

A survey released last month by research firm eMarketer found Echo speakers held 70.6 percent of the USA market, compared with 23.8 percent for Google Home. (Many reviewers have suggested that the current incarnation of Apple's assistant already trails competitors in key respects.) "This is the start of the AI wars", he said.

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Recode first reported about the possibility of a deal between Apple and Amazon in May. Like Amazon's Echo, you'll speak to Siri by saying, "Hey Siri". And Amazon, which offers its own connected-TV device called the Fire TV, stopped selling Apple TVs in 2015.

WWDC is Apple's annual pitch to software engineers to continue building programs for the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch.

The new version of MacOS, which powers Apple's desktops and laptop computers will also likely be demonstrated.

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