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Apple Unveils 'HomePod' Speaker, First New Product in Years

Tim Cook CEO speaks during Apple's annual world wide developer conference in San Jose California

Apple HomePod home assistantAs a home assistant, HomePod is a great way to send messages, get updates on news, sports and weather, or control smart home devices by simply asking Siri to turn on the lights, close the shades or activate a scene.

Until Monday, that left Apple as the one of the few major tech companies without a home speaker offering. Without an Apple speaker, consumers seeking smart home devices may opt both for competing hardware and services like Amazon Prime and Google Play Music. It's also what Microsoft is targeting with the Surface Pro; a new model comes out on June 15.

And while its competition has had a head start - the Amazon Echo launched in 2014 for Amazon Prime members and the Google Home was released previous year - experts in voice and visual search said instead of being late to the party, Apple could raise the bar like it did for digital music players when it launched the iPod, or smartphones, as it did with the iPhone. It will allow users to talk to Siri, Apple's digital assistant, while at home and costs US$349 (S$ 481) - nearly double the price of most competing products.

If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015. Pulling music from the Apple library, the speaker was presented as being able to recognize its placement and direct rich audio sound into the room.

The HomePod speaker will sell for $349, twice as much as the Amazon Echo, and will start shipping in December.

"Though Apple appears to be playing catch up with Amazon and Google, the primary casualty here may be Sonos".

Apple says its looking to "reinvent" the way we listen to music in the home.

"A big question mark for the new speaker, though, is whether Siri is good enough to power its own dedicated device". The Siri digital assistant has been updated to understand more spoken requests focused on music, he added. It will also be responsible for improving performance and security features. A smart speaker utilizing an underachieving voice assistant could dampen interest in the product.

Apple Inc kicked off its annual developer conference on Monday by unveiling a "Siri face" for the Apple Watch that will enable the voice-activated assistant to provide users with information like commute times for upcoming appointments.

"New indoor maps of areas like malls and airports indicated that Apple might be laying groundwork to display information over images of those places in the future".

Safari, Apple's web browser, is getting new features aimed at online annoyances.