Look out Alexa: Apple announces 'HomePod,' a smart home audio speaker

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If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015.

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

Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, said on stage that the product has been in the works for "years".

The HomePod, to be launched later this year, has six microphones built into it and is powered by Apple's smart assistant Siri.

Against other smart home assistants, the HomePod's targets are different from ostensible competitors like the Amazon Echo. "HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a attractive speaker that is less than 7 inches tall, can rock most any room with distortion free music and be a helpful assistant around your home".

Apple's Tim Cook dusted off the "one last thing" gag for the finale of its WWDC17 keynote, revealing the new HomePod speaker.

Apple also unveiled the high-end iMac Pro for power users at its annual conference for software programmers Monday. The new model will begin shipping on Monday. Only after gabbing on and on about its sound quality and elegance did he throw up a final slide of the limited range of non-music voice assistance HomePod can provide.

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Apple also shared the latest version of watchOS4, which continues to put the emphasis on the Apple Watch as a fitness device. The speaker only sends information to Apple when it detects the " Hey Siri" trigger phrase, much like Amazon and Google only transfer audio snippets when their respective wake words have been said. Apple executives demonstrated the use of Macs to produce VR experiences, though they didn't immediately talk about making a headset to view them.

Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes. "[And] You can even ask more complex, music-related questions like 'Who's the drummer in this song?' or 'What album came out on this day 20 years ago?'"

More than 35 million people in the US are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than doubling from last year, according the research firm eMarketer.

Amazon is already available on rival devices such as Roku and, of course, Amazon's Fire TV.

But the prospect of a completely new Apple product, combined with a more useful Siri, is the most anticipated possibility for analysts and Apple fans.

Apple HomePod speaker has been created to work with Apple Music. Apple's HomePod will rely on its own HomeKit for support while Google Home has various partners for smart home hardware that include Samsung, Nest and Philips. But on a screenless speaker like HomePod, if Siri sucks, the whole gadget does too.

"Though Apple appears to be playing catch up with Amazon and Google, the primary casualty here may be Sonos".

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