Apple's Smart Speaker Is Finally Here

The difference between these "AI first, sound quality second" products and Apple's HomePod should be night and day.

"This is really going after Sonos and Bose home speakers-the audio is superior to Sonos-music is in Apple's DNA", said Tim Bajarin, president of market watcher Creative Strategies (Campbell, Calif.).

A survey released last month by research firm eMarketer found Echo speakers held 70.6 percent of the U.S. market, compared with 23.8% for Google Home and 5.6% for others including Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel.

The HomePod speaker will sell for $349, twice as much as the Amazon Echo.

Instead of seeing the HomePod as a Siri Speaker, a device that feels late and underdressed to a party, see it as the evolution of the connected Wi-Fi speaker - loaded to the gills with a seven beam-forming tweeter array, a 4-inch upward-facing woofer and a library of 4 million songs. To that end, Apple has expanded Siri's vocabulary when it comes to music. "A smart speaker utilizing an underachieving voice assistant could dampen interest in the product".

The HomePod is Apple's first new gadget in almost three years, following its announcement of the Apple Watch in September 2014.

"Apple is smart to frame the HomePod as a music-centric and audio-centric device rather than just another smart speaker or another home for Siri", said Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson.

However, the early signs are that the technology giant's latest device could become a real game-changer when it goes on sale later this year. High Sierra also offers a number of interface changes and simple quality of life improvements, such as Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari, which uses machine learning to remove tracking data used by advertisers to keep tabs on web surfers. The result is the HomePod, a product that will let you play music, check the traffic, query the weather and even send text messages to friends. The company also launched a new configuration of the 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar that starts at a cheaper $1,299.

"A big question mark for the new speaker, though, is whether Siri is good enough to power its own dedicated device".

Apple told the developers they were overhauling the App Store, giving it a fresh look, and beginning to add the floor plans of shops and airports to its mapping program. The research firm eMarketer says than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than double its estimate from last year.

For photos, Apple is replacing JPEGs with a new format meant to reduce file sizes.

On the software front, RBC Capital analyst Amit Daryanani expects the iOS 11 - the next operating system for Apple's iPhones and iPads - to get an overhaul that will accommodate the anticipated removal of the home button from the 10th anniversary model of the iPhone due out later this year.

The free software, iOS 11, is expected in September, when Apple typically releases new iPhones.

  • Carolyn Briggs