Apple unveils HomePod speaker, taking on Amazon and Google

John Ternus

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.

However, it appeared that, for music, the speaker will be compatible only with Apple's streaming service, which costs £9.99 a month. Whereas Amazon sells the main version of the Echo for $180; Google's Home speaker goes for $130.

Apple on Monday introduced a music speaker, its first hardware since Apple Watch was rolled out two years ago, at this year's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Siri, a digital assistant that has been on Apple's iPhone since 2011, will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house. "It's the biggest brains ever in a speaker", said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller. That's especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more "pervasive" way that's less dependent on smarthphones, he said.

Apple is expected to announce plans this week to make its Siri voice assistant work with a larger variety of apps, but initial changes were expected to add just a small number of capabilities.

The price tag isn't surprising, according to technology analysts, who said Apple has always sold its products at a higher price point because it wants to convey that its gadgets are more premium than the competition's. For instance, Apple initially resisted enlarging the size of the iPhone's screen despite strong sales for larger-display phones made by Samsung and other rivals.

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

It is the first new device Apple has announced in nearly three years. It will allow users to automatically block auto-play videos by detecting videos that shouldn't be playing when you open a webpage to read an article, for example.

The new iPad Pro also comes with a better camera - the same one found in the iPhone 7 - along with more storage, a better display and faster refreshing of moving images. Apple also laid some groundwork for augmented reality, the projection of digital features onto real-world surroundings, by giving app developers tools for incorporating AR into their products.

The company is also reportedly working on a home speaker powered by Siri that could be unveiled during the conference, which would be a rarity for an event that traditionally features software and minor updates to hardware such as its Mac laptops.

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