Apple unveils the HomePod speaker,to take on Amazon Echo and Google Home

Screenshot of a customer interaction with Apple in iMessage as part of Business Chat

Of course there are going to be tie ups between retailers and these three voice platforms, much as Tesco has already done with Google Home, and many luminaries have already popped up to outline how they think voice controlled devices are going to reshape retail, but I think it goes way deeper than that and throws up some choice challenges for retailers.

The Amazon Echo can be picked up for £149, although the smaller, cheaper Echo Dot costs just £49. On top of the speaker, one would find the microphone. It also (like every AI Speaker out there) boasts of a touchscreen upper-surface that can be used to trigger Siri. "Internally, the HomePod features an array of 7 beam-forming tweeters at the bottom, coupled with an Apple-Designed 4" upward-facing woofer. At WWDC, Apple announced the speaker category for HomeKit, so other speaker makers could more tightly integrate with iOS.

Apple needs to get machine intelligence right for its entire product portfolio because it's a critical enabling technology, not because it needs to compete against Google and Amazon to answer the most arcane voice query.

Apple had plenty of other announcements. Amazon's even offering a $100 discount if you order a pair of Echo Show devices, which, if you work the math, comes out to exactly the same price as a single HomePod. That company offers a similar wireless multi-speaker system for listening to music throughout the home, similar to HomePod's ability to chain together multiple speakers. With Siri most widely used on iPhone, Apple risked missing out on the daily, at-home tasks consumers increasingly use Echo or Home for - reminders, calendars, music.

HomePod will be available for $349 (US) in white and space gray starting in December initially in Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.1 HomePod is compatible with iPhone 5s and later, running iOS 11.

That's a reasonable position given how niche the smart home market remains.

The company's TV app is also adding Amazon and its Prime Video service later this year for the first time. So the diverging strategies make sense.

"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 so far". It also delivers sports news, translations, traffic and weather alerts, while smart home integration is a no-brainer. There's also a "virtual surround sound" feature that helps the small speaker fill up a room with your sick jams. It can learn your preferences; so if you say, "Hey Siri, play something different", it will select a tune that meshes with your tastes. Google clearly sees voice as a major component to the future of search, and that's why it's been so aggressive about getting into this nascent space. "It checks whether it's a big room or a room with lots of soft stuff in it, and adjusts how it plays and in what direction".

Apple has a higher price point than its competitors. Some of the products will be available immediately, others will come later this year.

Apple says its Safari browser on the Mac will try to guard your privacy by identifying and blocking data files that track you as you move from website to website.

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