Apple 'HomePod' speaker to take on Amazon, Google

Apple Inc on Monday introduced the HomePod, a voice-controlled speaker that can make music suggestions and adjust home temperatures, taking aim at Amazon.com Inc's Alexa feature and Echo devices.

To be clear, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Snap have all been busy in both AI and AR. These giants are battling over still-emerging fields that are expected to turn into technological gold mines, much the way personal computers and smartphones became moneymaking machines in previous decades.

Apple's annual conference for app developers begins Monday in San Jose, California.

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.

Apple's Siri assistant will be integrated into the $349 speaker, and can make music recommendations that pair with the company's Apple Music service, send text messages, check news and sports scores and control compatible home gadgets like lightbulbs and thermostats.

When compared to the Echo and the Home, the HomePod faces an uphill battle in the voice-powered speaker market.

HomePod is created to work with the Apple Music subscription service and can produce rich sound while tapping into the artificial intelligence power of Siri. For example, you can say "Hey Siri, who's the drummer in this?"

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the Homepod.

The HomePod - due to launch in December - looks like a mesh cylinder.

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If Apple unveils a rival to internet-connected speakers from Amazon and Google, it wouldn't be the first time that Apple hops on the bandwagon of a technology product popularized by a competitor. If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015. 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.

Apple (AAPL) finally has a horse in one of the hottest consumer tech categories out there.

Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, said on stage that the product has been in the works for "years".

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.

Apple saved its most anticipated WWDC announcement for the very end.

Safari, Apple's web browser, seeks to make users' online experience smoother and less annoying. It will not block the ads themselves, though.

The new iPad Pro will have a 10.5-inch screen, placing it between the current 9.7 and 13-inch screens of Apple's flagship tablet. It's part of Apple's effort to entice professionals with tablets that can handle many tasks previously reserved for laptops.

The new features will come in a software update expected in a few months.

New in iOS 11 will be a better camera app, a more capable Apple Pay system, a new version of Apple Maps with indoor mapping and a new toolkit to help developers bring augmented reality features to their apps. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.

  • Delia Davidson