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

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

Wireless speakers are a booming tech category at present and are seen as a gateway into turning our homes into "smart" homes. This will allow the device to "detect" the space it's in and adjust the volume and sound to work in that environment. However, Siri has been slow to improve its voice-recognition technology and set of responses, especially compared with the more capable Alexa and Google Assistant.

Apple "can't afford to yield valuable real estate in the heart of people's homes to Amazon, Google and others", said Geoff Blaber, research analyst at CCS Insight.

From a business perspective for Apple, this another opportunity to keep users within its closed network of products. It may also need to foster an app base before it promotes that aspect, since these "skills", as Amazon calls them, are key to consumer acceptance.

"Interesting that home assistant was the last feature they talked about. In fact, Apple nearly positioned as something that's not that important". Even in the USA, United Kingdom and Australia, that would appear to be later than would be ideal to catch the important holiday season. And all communications will be encrypted, meaning authorities can't try to tap home communications. Amazon has heavily dominated the field with its home speaker called Echo, which uses the digital assistant Alexa.

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. Yes, it's fashionably late Apple with its much-rumoured smart speaker, the HomePod. This support will allow developers to create a wide range of VR experiences on their Macs. Apple said the upgrades make the Mac a great platform for developing virtual reality experiences.

David Goldman, vice president of marketing at AR startup Lumus Ltd. Apple may be playing catchup in the home-assistant realm, but it innovated tablets back in 2010 with the original iPad; the only problem is, iPads apparently don't break often enough, resulting in a decline in sales in recent years.

While whispers of a touch-enabled Mac line that would open the door to more versatile Apple machines turned out to be baseless, Apple is significantly updating several of its existing products with modern components, as well as introducing a new turbo-charged iMac. The new Echo Show goes on sale on June 28 for $230. There's no word yet on support for third-party services, or ways for developers to adapt their services for HomePod.

Following in Google's footsteps, Siri will also be able to translate and speak phrases from six languages, with more coming later, Apple said.

The free software, iOS 11, is expected in September, when Apple typically releases new iPhones.

For photos, Apple is replacing JPEGs with a new format meant to reduce file sizes. "Focusing on music is smart, main use case for smart speakers", said Ben Bajarin, of the Creative Strategies consultancy.

The new features will come in a software update expected in a few months. This includes a completely redesigned app store with better app discovery, as well as a new "do not disturb while driving" feature that blocks notifications in the vehicle.

It starts shipping later this year in the USA, United Kingdom and Australia.

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