Apple 'HomePod' speaker to take on Amazon, Google

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The $349 speaker made its debut at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California on Monday.

After the AR Kit, the second and perhaps the only thing that drew a cheerful round of applause at the WWDC 2017 is the HomePod - which can safely be called Apple's answe to Google Home and Amazon Echo.

Apple isn't just going after Amazon. The HomePod speaker has six built-in microphones compared to 1 on Siri, so response rate should be much better.

Siri, which has been included in Apple devices since 2014, was able to answer only 22% of questions and 62% of them correctly.

Of course, it's not unusual for Apple to charge a premium for upmarket technology products.

Rather than focusing on being a digital assistant like the Amazon Alexa, the focus of the Apple HomePod is music. "It will reinvent home audio", boasted Apple CEO Tim Cook. But Loup Ventures estimates that 10 million Echo and Home devices have been sold worldwide. The Google Home lets you set either of those music services as your default, while the Echo lets you choose from Amazon Music and Spotify.

The extensive range of updates are all due for release later this year. If Apple were to release a Siri-centric speaker, it could tie the device to other services it offers like its subscription music streaming service, or its News app.

The move is the first into a completely new area by Apple for more than two years as the world's most valuable technology company looks to make up for a dip in iPhone sales and new ways to get customers to use more of its money-making apps and services.

"It's a logical step for Apple, to ensure that they don't miss the opportunity to get a smart device right in the centre of people's homes", said Ben Wood, an industry analyst at CCS Insight. In other words, Sonos is now an Apple competitor.

The tech giant announced the updated iMacs would have new, faster processors as well as "43% brighter" displays. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for development virtual-reality "experiences".

Safari, Apple's web browser, is getting new features aimed at online annoyances. It also introduced autoplay blocking, which stops music and video from playing automatically without your permission on websites as well as "intelligent tracking prevention", which stops ads from following you around the web. Apple announced a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro with a slimmer side bezels, increasing the screen size by almost 20 percent.

New features coming to iPhones and iPads, meanwhile, include marginal improvements such as syncing messages to Apple servers in the cloud, saving storage space on phones and tablets. Developers will keep an eye out for hints about new capabilities in the next iPhone, such as so-called augmented reality, in which digital information is overlaid on real-world images.