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

Apple was expected to announce a smart speaker, a market that Amazon - with its sleeper hit, the Echo - and the later Google Home, powered by Assistant - now dominate, given them an integral place in users' lives.

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

Amazon's Echo, introduced in 2014, helped put the e-commerce giant's Alexa virtual assistant in millions of homes, while Alphabet's Google Home serves as a new voice-based gateway to the search company's services.

"It's clearly about the hardware but also making Siri more obvious to consumers so you can see where she's getting smarter", said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. "It will reinvent home audio", boasted Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple said it will be the "most powerful Mac" the company has ever made. In practice, it looked like a lot of smart "Waves" being sent from the device that were reflected in the acoustics of the room to give HomePod an idea of its surroundings.

HomePod will taking Amazon Echo and Google Home, which have been building momentum in the market for voice-controlled speakers capable of controlling smart appliances, fetching content from the internet and more.

Apple is officially jumping into the home speaker market.

HomePod will be available in December for $349.

Apple also offered some hints about new capabilities in the next iPhone, including so-called augmented reality, in which digital information is overlaid on real-world images. The speaker can understand where the speaker is placed and make the most of the environment to produce the best sound possible. The new iMac will be available at the end of the year and can be configured with up to CPU 18 cores and Graphical Processing Units with performance of up to 22 Teraflops.

Apple isn't just going after Amazon.

Apple is also bringing the ability to pay someone back through its payment service, Apple Pay, much as PayPal and other services already do. Siri now uses machine learning "on-device" to suggest things like calendar entries and responses to messages. Smart speakers like the Echo allow for voice interaction but (according to Apple) don't sound that great. Apple, by contrast, has been stubborn about letting outsiders tap the power of Siri, and the company has fallen behind as a result.

Apple also announced the next version of its Mac operating system - macOS High Sierra - featuring tools for developers to develop virtual reality experiences, and support for virtual reality headsets. "The HomePod has seven tweeters and a 4" woofer inside, all of which run off an A8 chip, which is the very same one found in your iPhone. Apple is betting that some customers will pay a big premium for higher sound quality.

Apple had plenty of other announcements.

If anyone tries to contact the driver while their iPhone's Do Not Disturb While Driving feature is switched on, they will receive an automatic reply (which is customisable in the Settings menu) telling them the driver is busy.