Apple unveils 'HomePod' speaker, first new product in years

It's right there in the name. Things like making smart assistants smarter and digital speakers more accurate require a lot of hard engineering work that few people can really appreciate. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the device.

Apple Inc. has arguably perfected the art of the up-sell.

The first two of those go hand in hand.

Finally, Amazon Prime Video will be available on Apple TV later this year. They aren't necessarily attractive (though the Home can look oddly cute, like a baby speaker that's yet to finish growing), but they're mostly ignorable.

The Google Home, it could be argued, is in many ways the superior product to the Echo. 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. Both speakers can respond to voice requests for the news, weather and tasks such as turning on the lights.

Technically speaking, the Apple HomePod is a wireless speaker which is capable of using spatial awareness and sense where it is located in the room, and automatically adjust audio output accordingly. Apple aimed to reassure its audience by saying HomePod won't listen until the user triggers it with "Hey Siri".

At $350, putting a HomePod in multiple rooms of your house isn't a very appealing prospect.

Siri will also speak (a little) more naturally in female and male voices, and use some sort of machine learning to suggest apps that you may want to use. The Echo is a utility, created to be ignored. If the Mac Pro was a speaker, it would be the HomePod.

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But it's also not the complete story for the HomePod. There's a decent chance a huge number of people will have a smart speaker in their home within the next decade.

Siri can do those things, too, but Apple's pitch for Siri-powered HomePod is instead focused heavily on music - the company appears to bank on consumers paying for smart speakers that deliver high-quality audio sound as a sort of gateway into the world of smart home assistants. While it might have a small footprint, Apple made the most of its interior by cramming in an array of seven tweeters, that offers directional control of the audio. It did expand Siri's functionality slightly, but those features were limited to iPhones and iPads.

In a blog post Technalysis Research founder Bob O'Donnell depicted Apple's latest product news as an affirmation that the company has not fallen behind competitors and is working to take advantage of potentially exciting new technologies.

Australia will be one of the first countries to receive the rollout of HomePod units, which will be available in December 2017. It allows for more flexibility (four different kinds of inflection were demonstrated on stage), and, as the technology advances, it will sound exactly like a human anyway. Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged almost 600 per cent year-over-year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon taking about 88 per cent share and Google 10 percent, according to consultant Strategy Analytics.

But while Apple's device can claim, in this test at least, to sound the best - that may not be enough to make the product a success.

But the smart speaker market is still nascent.

Cool tech but ProMotion is a awful name. Apple has always shot for the higher end of the market, while Google and Amazon have always shot for mass adoption.

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