Apple 'HomePod' speaker to take on Amazon, Google

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Apple CEO Tim Cook launched iOS 11 with over 10 new features

The $349 speaker made its debut at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California on Monday.

"Just like with portable music, we want to reinvent home music", Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

With its always-on voice assistant and ability to control connected devices, the HomePod is very similar to Echo devices and Google Home, but with a few notable differences.

Tapping Apple's (AAPL) Siri digital assistant, such a speaker is expected to serve as a butler as well as an outlet for listening to music.

Phil Schiller, senior VP of marketing at Apple had the job of explaining what the new product is meant to do. You can ask Siri to send a text message to your friend, start playing the latest episode of your favorite podcast, and get the latest updates in news, sports, traffic, and weather. Probably sensibly, Apple executives spent far less time trumpeting how HomePod will work with Siri, which is still too dumb for all but basic functions like setting reminders.

Richard Windsor from Edison Investment Research said: "Apple has positioned this as something that the user buys for a high-quality audio experience with Siri coming as an added bonus". It also has a feature called Musicologist that connects with Apple Music to stream music users ask the speaker's Siri to play.

"The fact that Apple is claiming to marry really great and smart audio with a smart assistant and cloud music service makes this device unique in the market".

Some industry insiders, however, note that Apple will be under more pressure to improve the computing smarts of its Siri software in the face of offerings from rivals Google and Amazon.

Research firm eMarketer says than 35 million people in the US are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than double its estimate from last year. Schiller said devices like the Amazon Echo have poor sound quality, and wifi speakers like Sonos don't have interactive voice assistants.

A survey released last month by research firm eMarketer found Echo speakers held 70.6 percent of the USA market, compared with 23.8 percent for Google Home.

Also, in important news for the upcoming macOS release, High Sierra, there will be an update to Safari that helps block site trackers and autoplaying videos - something that seems to be an epidemic on media sites right now and it drives me, personally, insane.

The big iPad Pro can be order now and will begin shipping next week.

Mac models were also boosted to work with virtual reality gear, a move by Apple into technology that Facebook has embraced with its Oculus unit.

Apple Maps is adding floor plans of malls and airports, making it easier to plan ahead.

On the software front, RBC Capital analyst Amit Daryanani expects the iOS 11 - the next operating system for Apple's iPhones and iPads - to get an overhaul that will accommodate the anticipated removal of the home button from the 10th anniversary model of the iPhone due out later this year.

The HomePod can also be used to control HomeKit-enabled devices.

A set of iOS 11 features including enabling smartphone cameras to read QR codes are aimed at the China market, where Apple would like to bolster iPhone sales.

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