Apple's HomePod speaker pumps up the volume on tech rivals

SAN JOSE Apple is hoping a new smart home speaker will strike a chord with music lovers - the latest test of the iPhone maker's ability to redefine markets originally staked out by its rivals. Besides playing music, Apple's Siri digital assistant will also respond to requests for information and other help around the house.

Apple HomePod will release in the month of December this year, and Apple might add some more features keeping the competition in mind.

Apple vice president Phil Schiller said the company's Siri team had tuned the assistant into a "musicologist" that learns the tastes of listeners and gets songs from the internet cloud. However, talking about Apple's view of AR (augmented reality) seems hard for Cook to resist. "It's about being the best and giving the user an experience that delights them every time".

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While the company is happy to mention Siri, it is clear that the Apple speaker is no formidable AI assistant just yet. Cook is aiming to double services revenue, which also includes products like iCloud and Apple Music, to around $50 billion by 2020.

At $349 (£240.23), Homepod will be more expensive than Google Home and Amazon Echo, but cheaper than the Sonos Play 5. This may be the start of a new push. Given that Apple customers are more likely to own an Amazon Echo or Alexa-powered device than the average consumer, the firm believes the HomePod will broaden the Apple ecosystem over time, however, the product will not be launched in the U.S. until December 2017, with broader distribution expected in 2018. The HomePod supports a list of features, including unit conversion, messages, news, podcast playback, reminders, translation, general knowledge, weather, traffic info, sports scores, setting alarms, timers, and will also work as a HomeKit bridge. Amazon sells the main version of the Echo for $180; Google's Home speaker goes for $130. It's part of Apple's effort to entice professionals with tablets that can handle many tasks previously reserved for laptops.

When you think of "music" and "Apple", you'll probably find yourself dwelling on the most recent product offering of Apple Music, the all-you-can-hear music smorgasbord Apple competes hard against Google and Spotify.

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The speaker, while expected by some industry watchers, marked Apple's first new product announcement since the Apple Watch in September 2014. Sadly, Apple HomePod will control the HomeKit-enabled lights and accessories and not others. Federighi highlighted stories about Iceland after a search in Safari for holidays to the island.

Recode was the first to report that Amazon and Apple were nearing a truce. Developers are being given tools to place 3-D images of objects in the iPhone camera's field of view.

HomePod capped a keynote presentation at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference that included updates to its iPad and Mac laptop lines, and upgraded operating software enabling augmented reality for iPhones and iPads.

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