Monday, 23 October, 2017

Apple unveils HomePod, its Siri smart speaker

Derrick Tucker | 06 June, 2017, 06:57

The biggest buzz this year is for an all new type of hardware, the first since the Apple Watch.

Apple certainly has some catching up to do: An eMarketer forecast last month predicted that Amazon is expected to command roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market share this year, with Google Home taking much of the rest of the market. However, rumours have indicated that at some point, Apple will be unveiling a dedicated hardware unit in the style of Amazon Echo and Google Home.

"I'm dispensing with the updates, other than to tell you, Apple's doing great", Apple CEO Tim Cook said in brief opening remarks as he took the stage at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif.

With Apple doing small things to make AI more visible and powerful across more of its devices, the company appears to be acknowledging people's continued use of impressively smart apps like Google Translate and the Google App.

Following in Google's footsteps, Siri will also be able to translate and speak phrases from six languages, with more coming later, Apple said.

Apple revealed a new smart speaker device, the HomePod, at WWDC.

The Apple HomePod is shipping later this year in the United States, UK, and Australia. The features are part of the Mac software update this fall, to be called High Sierra.

More than 35 million people in the US are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than doubling from last year, according the research firm eMarketer. This, coupled with speculative reports that Apple's Siri speaker will be able to link up with the Apple TV as a peripheral speaker, has led some to speculate that Apple's upcoming speaker might target Sonos.

The lack of a breakthrough device has periodically raised concerns that Apple has become too dependent on the iPhone and supported the theory that the company lost its knack for innovation when its co-founder Steve Jobs died of cancer in 2011. Beyond a visual overhaul, Apple could include updates to Apple Music and some core apps like Maps.

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Onstage, Apple's worldwide head of marketing, Phil Schiller, described how the speaker analyzes the song it's playing and adjusts its output. The company "can't afford to yield valuable real-estate in the heart of people's homes to Amazon, Google and others", said Geoff Blaber, research analyst at CCS Insight. Siri also has a new screen in the Apple Watch which presents data and information that may echo earlier behavior at a similar time of day or the week.

The announcements follow complaints that Apple has let its Mac computers languish in favor of its better-selling products, namely the iPhone.

New iMacs are getting brighter displays and graphics capabilities. During a demonstration, developers from Epic Games and Industrial Light and Magic demonstrated the way designers could shoot fire inside a virtual reality design of "Star Wars".

Safari, Apple's web browser, seeks to make users' online experience smoother and less annoying. It will not block the ads themselves, though.

The speaker has the "power to rock the house", according to Schiller, who said the team worked to make HomePod a potent assistant for news, messages, weather, traffic, home controls and more.

Apple has been rumoured to be developing its own mobile chip to handle machine learning tasks.

Apple also released a software kit so developers could infuse augmented reality into applications for iPhones or iPads. Or if someone texts you about owing money, it will ask if you want to pay using Apple Pay. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.

Ortutay reported from NY.

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