Apple to take on Amazon and Google with its new HomePod

For years now Apple has built and distributed some of the world's most popular digital media players. Beats Electronics was also working on a Wifi-equipped speaker when it was acquired by Apple in 2014, but Apple chose to kill the project before it was publicly announced.

In the form of a smart speaker system, the HomePod, which syncs in multiple rooms and scans the space around it to optimize audio.

Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, said on stage that the product has been in the works for "years". But Apple was careful to frame it as a product focused on music first - potentially differentiating it from the Echo and Home. Apple say it will launch at a price of $349 (roughly £270) in the USA, with official pricing for Australia and the United Kingdom will be released later this year. Without an Apple speaker, consumers seeking smart home devices may opt both for competing hardware and services like Amazon Prime and Google Play Music. Despite a slightly bass-heavy performance, our sister mag What Hi Fi? thought the HomePod edged the Sonos and outclassed the Echo in a side-by-side demo. If you're an Apple Music member, the HomePod can access Apple Music's full catalog, as well as tap into machine learning to learn about your music preferences and suggest songs and artists you might like. "It will reinvent home audio", boasted Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The HomePod will be available in December in the US, United Kingdom and Australia in white and space gray.

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That compares to Amazon Echo, which costs US$180, and Google Home, which retails for US$129.

The Echo, released in 2015, and Google Home, released past year, were the first entrants in a promising market. Spending on smart home related hardware, services and installation fees will reach US$155 billion by 2022, up from nearly US$90 billion this year, with devices accounting for about half of that, the consulting firm also estimates. Apple is basically trying to catch up to Amazon and Google in this aspect, but by improving voice-command the Homepod could soon become a very hot commodity. Some of the products will be available immediately, others will come later this year.

As were the rumors suggesting, Apple was going to launch a Wi-Fi speaker and the company did that at the WWDC 2017 keynote.

But Apple is late to the game on VR.

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Analysts said the smart home speaker market is ripe for Apple.

Apple pitched its speaker as primarily a music device, saying it links tightly with the company's Music streaming app, which brings in $10 in revenue per user each month.

Siri can also handle advanced searches within the music library, allowing users to ask questions such as "Hey Siri, who's the drummer in this?" or create a shared Up Next queue with everyone in the home. For instance, Apple initially resisted enlarging the size of the iPhone's screen despite strong sales for larger-display phones made by Samsung and other rivals.

Apple had plenty of other announcements. By embedding Siri, users can make specific demands like sending a text message and summarizing a news report.

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