Apple 'HomePod' speaker to take on Amazon, Google

Phillip Butler
June 7, 2017

Analysts said Apple is playing to its strength in the music industry by focusing on sound quality and its catalog of songs. "We feel like we reinvented that in the portable player area, and we think we can reinvent it in the home as well". The company also refreshed the operating system on the Apple Watch - which will have more Siri integration - and the Apple TV, which will now work with Amazon Video.

Apple has given Siri new male and female voices, described as more natural and expressive, and added abilities such as translating English phrases into Chinese, French, German, Italian or Spanish.

Apple's virtual assistant Siri has been given a makeover with iOS 11.

Unlike most of the competitors, however, the HomePod has a big focus on music and sound quality with the $349 speaker packing in a 7 tweeter array with precision acoustic horns and directional control.

Although Siri would likely be a centerpiece of a smart speaker from Apple, Moorhead said the device's design, colors and acoustics will also likely be focal points because the company has a long history of making elegantly designed products. "And so we don't let that impatience result in shipping something that's just not great". Apple last updated the iPad Pro last fall, when it introduced the smaller model, but the iPad Pro hasn't had a significant performance update since its 2015 release.

The Apple logo at a store in San Francisco's Union Square.

Apple also announced that Portrait Mode on in the new app will be able to take use HDR mode and OIS to render images with better exposure and colours.

Yes, Sonos speakers will start working with Amazon Alexa later this year, but Apple has characteristically blended the two ideas - high-end speaker with voice control - in the HomePod. But it's a lot cheaper than the iPhone, which starts at US$649 (RM2,762) and is now the main way people access Siri. Apple said HomePods can pick up the commands from across the room with a 6-microphone array (compared to the Echo's 7 microphones and Home's 2 microphone). The research firm eMarketer says than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than double its estimate from last year. Amazon dominated shipments in the three months through December, selling 88% of the 4.2 million smart speakers sold globally in that period.

The trend-setting company also is putting new twists on existing products as it delves deeper into virtual reality and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.

For starters, Business Chat will be deeply integrated into the iOS operating system and within Apple's own native apps. Federighi highlighted stories about Iceland after a search in Safari for holidays to the island.

"There is so much momentum building around these speakers that it would be hard for Apple not to come out with one", said industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. These new iMacs also benefit from faster storage and thunder bolt port.

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