Apple unveils 'HomePod' speaker, first new product in years

Apple unveiled new hardware, including a Siri-powered speaker, and previewed upcoming iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch features as the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) kicked off Monday. By analyzing the sound received from its own music playback, for instance, the HomePod can fine-tune its speakers to give you the best immersive audio experience for the largest physical area possible. Siri can serve as a musicologist for music lovers as it can quick provide answers to questions like "Who is singing this song?" and "Who is playing the drums in this song?"

Yet Apple wants to directly compete against the likes of Amazon's Echo and the Google Home, and has built its smart assistant Siri into the speaker. Apple's speaker will be launching in the U.S., U.K., and Australia in December, with additional markets to come next year. It can also be used as a smart home hub.

The speaker has the "power to rock the house", according to Schiller, and the aim is to make HomePod a potent assistant for news, messages, weather, traffic, home controls and more.

More than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than doubling from last year, according the research firm eMarketer.

The San Francisco-based technology giant's eagerness to cover the entire digital ecosystem through a premium eye candy product line, dovetails with sales of its iPod digital music player taking successive dives down the years, and growing margin requirements forcing it to look beyond its bread-and-butter iPhone wares.

Apple believes that its latest entrant into the smart speaker space has the potential to shake up the market in just the way the company had done with its iPods back in the 2000s.

In its update on the next operating system to hit iPhones - iOS 11 - new tools will be given to developers to create AR apps.

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.

Unlike those other smart speakers, Apple is positioning the HomePod primarily as a way to listen to and discover new songs and artists.

Apple played up the rich speaker quality of HomePod, and synched it with the company's music service that boasts 27 million subscribers.

Siri, meanwhile, is getting a new voice.

WWDC also saw the announcement that the Apple Music service now has 27 million paying subscribers - up from 20 million in December and 13 million a little more than one year ago. Before, transactions had been limited to products and services from businesses and institutions. (Many reviewers have suggested that the current incarnation of Apple's assistant already trails competitors in key respects.) "This is the start of the AI wars", he said.

New Macbook laptops and computers - Apple enhanced both its desktop and laptops with better processors and memory. That makes it a bit taller than the portly Google Home, and slightly shorter than canister-shaped Amazon Echo.

High Sierra features will include being able to stop unexpected videos from starting to play automatically when landing on web pages and "intelligent tracking prevention" that will prevent ads from following people about the internet. The move means that people can now transfer money to one another using Apple Pay.

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