Published: Thu, June 08, 2017
IT | By Amos Hawkins

WWDC 2017: Apple announces Siri-powered HomePod to take on Amazon's Echo

Apple is hoping a new smart home speaker will strike a chord with music lovers - the latest test of the iPhone maker's ability to redefine markets originally staked out by its rivals.

And, like the other smart speakers, the HomePod can link up with smart devices in the home, such as connected light bulbs, so a user can control them with a spoken command, like switching them on or off. Then in October 2016, Google unveiled its smart speaker, the Home.

"It will reinvent home audio", Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said during the conference.

"It's the biggest brain inside a speaker", Apple marketing head Phil Schiller proclaimed.

Apple played up the rich speaker quality of HomePod, and synched it with the company's music service that boasts 27 million subscribers. The speaker is powered by an A8 chip - the same chip found in the iPhone 6 - and lets the device learn its position in a room and optimise itself to deliver an immersive music listening experience, according to Apple.

As Apple explains it, the HomePod "uses spatial awareness to sense its location in a room and automatically adjust the audio" to enhance the quality.

A new Siri interface on the Apple Watch will also blend users' calendar information with other useful details, like airline tickets they may have booked, the company said.

Cook also used the 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) today to unveil the iOS 11, the software that will power its eagerly awaited iPhone 8 set to be released also later this year. Apple say it will launch at a price of $349 (roughly £270) in the United States, with official pricing for Australia and the United Kingdom will be released later this year.

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And you can bet Apple will compete as strongly as possible for a piece of that action. It will then enter other global markets in 2018.

The HomePod will be available in December in the US, United Kingdom and Australia in white and space gray. HomePod owners will only be able to stream music from Apple Music, and will not be able to use a third party service such as Spotify as an alternative.

There are only a few such smart speakers now that adjust the sound output based on their presence and the number of speakers in the same room.

Improvements to the AirPlay feature for sharing audio from iOS devices, which one-ups Google's invasion of home audio speakers through the Chromecast Audio dongle.

It's all very clever technology, and at first listen the HomePod easily bested market leader Sonos in a side-by-side comparison.

The new version of Apple's mobile operating system has received a series of updates, including an update to Siri.

The annual event in San Jose, California, also featured the unveiling of next-generation iMac Pro and MacBook computers, including the introduction of the iMac Pro with Intel Xeon processors and AMD Radeon Pro Vega GPUs. That's especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more "pervasive" way that's less dependent on smarthphones, he said.

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