Published: Wed, June 07, 2017
IT | By Amos Hawkins

Apple unveils $349 HomePod to compete with Amazon Echo, Google Home

For Apple, its Siri voice assistant remains popular, but for the first time in a while, it's feeling the heat from the competition. Schiller added HomePod's abilities as a digital assistant nearly as an end note during the keynote speech.

HomePod, powered Apple's Siri digital assistant, will be priced at $349 when it begins shipping in December in the United States, Australia and Britain, the tech giant announced at its annual developers conference.

Apple says it's giving more emphasis to sound quality, not just smarts.

However, while HomePod doesn't do anything the Amazon Echo and Google Home don't do in terms of its smart functions, Apple's promises of incredible sound and a smart speaker that adapts to the room its in could give it the edge.

More broadly, Apple has built tools for artificial intelligence and augmented reality, and now the company is starting to let outside developers use those tools to enhance their own applications.

The built-in "musicologist" works with Apple Music by drawing in music from the service and it remembers your playlists and your favourite artists. It also combats the competitive threat from Google's and Amazon's connected speakers: Those don't support Apple services like Apple Music, which brings in US$10 in revenue per user each month.

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Apple's price bump is likely tolerable for many people who buy some of its devices like the Mac line, which doesn't have low-to-mid-tier prices to match many Windows computers. It also offers multiple results when you make a query. The survey's other findings follow a rough split of general smartphone marketshare: 19 percent of respondents used Google Assistant, 6 percent named Amazon's Alexa as their primary assistant and a middling 4 percent named Microsoft's Cortana as their main assistant. It also needs to be fun to use, Apple said.

Siri, meanwhile, is getting a new voice. And if you tap into an article about locations in Iceland, Siri will remember them, and suggest them as you type in messages. You can also tell Siri you like a certain song, and it'll remember your tastes.

This includes commute times for upcoming appointments, relevant information from apps such as Activity, Alarms, Breathe, Calendar, Maps, Reminders and Wallet, as well as headlines from the new Apple News app for Apple Watch.

Some industry-watchers have also predicted Apple will announce hardware similar to Amazon's Echo device for the home, which has been a hot-seller in the USA. You can also pull up flight and movie tickets right on the watch with one tap.

The squat cylinder has a minimalist mesh design with a gloss top and it's available in white and space grey.

That's the conventional wisdom surrounding Apple's digital assistant, which has counted the iPhone as a primary residence since its 2011 debut on the iPhone 4S (really second debut, if you count Siri's previous life as a third-party app). Siri is never going to be as ubiquitous as Alexa, but Apple believes it can be a highly profitable business anyway. It was just a year ago that Siri was able to work with other apps (third-party), and it yet is able to respond to only specific commands, in other words, it gets confused.

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