Apple unveils voice-activated, connected home speaker

"Apple reinvented portable music with iPod and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes", said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing. The HomePod supports a list of features, including unit conversion, messages, news, podcast playback, reminders, translation, general knowledge, weather, traffic info, sports scores, setting alarms, timers, and will also work as a HomeKit bridge.

One major sticking point for consumers may be the HomePod's $350 price tag, which makes it twice as expensive as Amazon's Echo.

The Siri-controlled device will aim to combine listening to music at home with many other functions, according to Cook.

But it is on sound quality that Apple hopes to distinguish HomePod from the dominant smart speakers on the market.

Since the launch of Amazon's Echo past year and Google Home in March, both of which have been popular with consumers, Apple had been widely expected to enter the market.

Interestingly, Apple also announced AirPlay 2 earlier today, which lets you pair multiple speakers and play music in multiple rooms.

An update to Siri, alongside the release of the HomePod, perfectly plays into the hands of developers converging on Apple HQ. The speaker will also maintain an emphasis on privacy by only sending voice data to the cloud in response to specific requests initiated with "Hey Siri", which the speaker will listen for with local voice recognition. Amazon sells various Fire TV products that bring internet video to TV sets just the way that Apple TV boxes do. The Echo favours a circular LED light ring around its top, which actually might be more effective than Apple's HomePod design.

To be "smart", the latest product in Apple's portfolio, known as HomePod, comes with a A8 microprocessor chip, the same power engine in the company's flagship iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet computer. All you have to do is hold your iPhone next to the HomePod and it'll be ready to start playing music in seconds. HomePod's room-equalization feature sounds very similar to Sonos' TruePlay, but Sonos is relying on Amazon's Alexa for voice control. To begin interacting with the HomePod, users will simply need to say "Hey Siri", followed by a question or command. Instead you'll need to resort to treating the HomePod like a bluetooth speaker.

The Google Home speaker can work with Google's Chromecast devices, so you can multi-room control sound through TVs or speakers plugged into those devices.

HomePod will be available starting in December in the USA, United Kingdom and Australia for $349, almost twice the price of Amazon's original Echo smart speaker.

The HomePod can also be used to control HomeKit-enabled devices.

Now it seems the Echo is getting some serious competition from Apple. However, Apple is focusing its HomePod efforts on its English-speaking user-base first.

Update: Buzzfeed's John Paczkowski, who has a good track record with Apple rumors, now reports that Apple will unveil the Amazon app at WWDC in June and that Amazon will resume selling Apple TVs.