Apple unveils $349 HomePod to compete with Amazon Echo, Google Home

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Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, said on stage that the product has been in the works for "years". Amazon is betting that ubiquity is the key to success in this market.

Although Apple has had Siri on its iPhones for years, for it to appear in smart home speakers stands as the company's first move of developing a new technology to meet customer demand.

Amazon has first-mover advantage.

Apart from this, as a home assistant, HomePod can be used to post messages, gather updates on news, sports and weather, or control smart home devices by simply asking Siri to do the basic job of switching on the light, closing the shade and so on.

Apple has given Siri new male and female voices, described as more natural and expressive, and added abilities such as translating English phrases into Chinese, French, German, Italian or Spanish. The HomePod may be more expensive and can't do as much as the Echo, but when it comes to sound quality, HomePod blows the Echo away.

The introduction of the HomePod capped a major day of Apple announcements during the company's annual worldwide developer conference in the U.S. on Monday.

The rumors that WWDC 17 would prove to be as much about hardware as software were well-founded as Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the "one last thing" that the keynote is notorious for. The increased price is to cover the improved sound technology, according to Apple.

Siri is built in to the device, and though an integration with Apple Music you can ask it requests such as "play Sia".

HomePod is created to work with an Apple Music subscription, providing access to over 40 million songs.

"Interesting that home assistant was the last feature they talked about".

There's two ways of looking at this. If the HomePod can do that substantially better than the Echo or Home, it might not matter that Apple gave Amazon and Google a head start and spotted them $200. This is said to deliver the crispiest bass possible.

The Siri voice response system will sound more lifelike, and translate several languages. Apple HomePod separates each aspect of music like the background, the vocals, and beams them separately to different parts of the room to make the overall effect more appealing.

Apple's entry into the market could change this. Amazon, which offers its own Fire TV streaming products, has made a habit of sparring with its competitors.

This will be welcome news for many Apple TV users, since the lack of access to Amazon's exclusive video content was a major drawback. It was a disaster and quickly pulled from store shelves.

The big question for Apple is how important the "platform" aspect of these smart speaker platforms turns out to be. But the product seems directly inspired by existing smart speakers from Amazon and Google. The new Echo Show goes on sale on June 28 for $230.

There's still a lot of unknowns.

It's going to cost $349. Although the format is not exclusive to Apple, it's not yet clear how well the photos will work with non-Apple software and devices, which mostly use JPEG.

But where presentations from Google and Amazon tend to focus more on Alexa or Assistant's home utility, connection to the HomeKit and the Apple ecosystem was an afterthought for Apple. But while that sharp-elbowed competition can be tough on companies, it's ultimately good for the consumer. The home speaker market on the other hand is well defined.