Published: Fri, June 09, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Grace Becker

Amazon executive says he's open to Siri on Amazon Echo

But that's not what makes smart speakers like HomePod so compelling, is it?

The speaker, while expected by some industry watchers, marked Apple's first new product announcement since the Apple Watch in September 2014.

Apple unveiled its long-awaited HomePod at its annual developers conference taking place this week in the heart of Silicon Valley, enticing lovers of its products with a high-end offering in a market dominated by lower-priced devices from Amazon and Google.

HomePod will take on Amazon Echo and Google Home, which have momentum in the arena of voice-controlled speakers capable of controlling smart appliances, fetching content from the internet and more.

Tech Crunch's review of the HomePod indicates that it lags behind Amazon Echo in smart voice integration and Apple still has much work to do to get create real value out of Siri and HomePod.

Apple's HomePod is the company's latest new gadget, packing a smart assistant, smart home hub, and multi-room audio speaker inside an overpriced, rounded package. You could play out that same scenario for a wide variety of music services, including Spotify Amazon's own music service. "It will reinvent home audio", boasted Apple CEO Tim Cook. The HomePod will be available only from December starting in the US, Britain and Australia, before reaching the rest of the world next year. Google sells Home for US$180, promoting the smart speakers with discounts. Google and Amazon have been saturating the market for a while now and figuring out the whole home assistant niche.

More than 35 million people in the United States are predicted to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, according to research firm eMarketer.

One major sticking point for consumers may be the HomePod's $350 price tag, which makes it twice as expensive as Amazon's Echo.

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The HomePod has seven beam forming tweeters and an upward- facing 10.2cm woofer for improved audio output, said Apple.

Apple says the $349 HomePod will be rolled out from December, initially being sold in Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. Microsoft has also partnered with third-party companies like Harmon Kardon to bring home assistant speakers powered by its Cortana virtual assistant to market. (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.

Apple has acknowledged that it needs to do better and on Monday it addressed some of these concerns by unveiling a new iMac Pro with superfast Intel Xeon chips, AMD Radeon Vega graphics processor, and up to 128 GB of pre-installed RAM.

Safari, Apple's web browser, is getting new features aimed at online annoyances. It will not actually block ads, though. Customers are also reportedly able to receive answers to more complex questions, like "who is a particular musician in a band?" It's part of Apple's effort to entice professionals with tablets that can handle many tasks previously reserved for laptops.

Apple wants into your home, but not in a weird way.

Siri was also front-and-centre of Apple's machine-learning, a type of artificial intelligence that helps software adapt to data and recognize patterns automatically.

I reached out to Apple in order to clarify what can and can't be played on the HomePod, but never heard back. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.

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