Apple unveils voice-activated, connected home speaker

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The tech giant's new voice-activated speaker is set to "reinvent" music in our homes.

Apple Inc on Monday introduced the HomePod, a voice-controlled speaker that can make music suggestions and adjust home temperatures, taking aim at Amazon.com Inc's Alexa feature and Echo devices.

Amazon Echo ($180); Echo Dot ($50), which connects to bigger speakers; the portable Echo Tap ($130); and Echo Show ($230), a speaker with a touchscreen and camera launching June 28 Google Home ($129) Apple HomePod ($329), which debuts in December Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana, slated for a 2017 year-end launch.

Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, said on stage that the product has been in the works for "years". Apple says the added cost is for the more premium speaker experience it offers over the Amazon Echo, which costs $179.

The specs of the HomePod certainly reinforce this idea - the Apple-designed sub woofer inside the speaker is paired with an A8 chip (from the iPhone 6). Google followed in 2016 with Google Home, and Microsoft is now working with Harman Kardon on the Invoke smart speaker, which uses voice-assistant Cortana.

The HomePod stands just under seven inches (18 cm) tall and is covered in fabric mesh that will come in white or grey. Note that there's still a good deal we don't know about the HomePod yet - Apple declined to comment on if the device will support multiple users, for instance, and it's not clear if it'll integrate with Spotify. And during the keynote, Apple made it clear that that's what they're more concerned with as well.

In the case of Apple's HomePod, though, you'll only have one choice: Apple Music. The Home Pod is also being primarily pitched as a wireless music speaker, rather than an all encompassing digital assistant.

Apple has in several areas, including smartphones and music players, joined markets after entrenched rivals and ultimately dominated them. And along with that, HomePod can also perform Siri enabled functions like if you need to ask some basic Siri Questions or ask Siri to read the latest news from the internet, or you want to have the HomeKit controls (HomeKit are devices which let you control home devices like lights, garage, door, Air conditioners and more). In that way, Apple is sticking to its normal playbook and focusing on consumers willing to shell out more cash - a strategy that can mean fewer sales but generally leads to greater profits.

The third combatant in this fracas will be the Amazon Echo. Amazon's senior VP of devices David Limp explained that he believes Alexa and Siri should be able to communicate with one another, while also pointing to the HomePod's price as an advantage for Amazon... If you have two HomePods in the same room, the two automatically detect and balance each other.

With regard to the newcomer, the Apple HomePod, the company's approach is what holds it back. Amazon's (AMZN) record-breaking Echo speaker, which it can't make fast enough, and Google's (GOOGL) Home speaker were top dogs in a new category.

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