Apple Unveils an Amazon Echo Competitor

HomePod marks Apple's attempt to put a stake in the smart-home assistant hardware market, an area now dominated by Amazon's growing array of Alexa-running devices, like its Echo speaker, and Google's Home gadget, which runs Google Assistant.

The HomePod speaker is the centre of attention at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.

Apple will later this year release a "HomePod" music-centric smart home speaker, challenging a market now dominated by Amazon and Google in its latest move to weave deeper into people's lives.

With Apple doing small things to make AI more visible and powerful across more of its devices, the company appears to be acknowledging people's continued use of impressively smart apps like Google Translate and the Google App. Needless to say, it comes with support for Apple's own virtual assistant Siri. The device uses the company's Siri personal digital assistant that is now found on its other devices and also incorporates its Apple Music.

"Just like we did with portable music, we want to reinvent home music", CEO Tim Cook said.

Apple noted the growing popularity of wireless home audio and smart speakers, but made the point that current offerings are lacking.

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HomePod is created to work with an Apple Music subscription for access to over 40 million songs. Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged almost 600% year-over-year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon taking about 88% share and Google 10%, according to consultant Strategy Analytics.

The product was introduced on stage by Apple executive Phil Schiller, who said it works closely with the company's Music app and will ship in December in the USA, United Kingdom and Australia.

Apple shares closed down 1 percent at $153.93, not far below the all-time high set last month. The HomePod will take Siri from iPhones into more homes and turn it into more of a hub for Apple's other products and services. The more powerful iMac is meant to address concerns of creative professionals who had been limited to much less powerful iMacs or the much-loved Mac Pro, which hasn't been updated since 2013.

The company also unveiled new iMacs for software programmers with better displays and graphics capabilities. The new iPad starts at $649 and will start shipping next week. There's also a 12.9in version that starts at $799. Alexa, the Echo's assistant, launched just two years, but it's already grown into an impressive competitor to Siri. Siri, a digital assistant that has been on Apple's iPhone since 2011, will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house. "With AR kit, iOS 11 becomes the world's largest augmented reality platform", Cook said.

The HomePod's cylindrical shape also reminded some people of another recently decomissioned Apple product.

Apple also introduced new elements for its upcoming IOS 11 mobile software that include the ability for person to person payments via Apple Pay, a male voice option for Siri, and the equivalent of an out of office message for texts while driving.