New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

Augmented reality is the blending of the physical and virtual worlds.

The HomePod speaker: a music accessory first, and a home assistant second.

Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., on Monday with a host of announcements.

Mac models were also boosted to work with virtual reality gear, a move by Apple into technology that Facebook has embraced with its Oculus unit.

The HomePod is Hey Siri enabled with 6 multi-directional microphones that can interpret the way you say "Hey Siri" with its memory.

A note from Macquarie Research described Apple's World Wide Developer Conference as "solid, if unsurprising". Rumors of an Apple smart speaker have been floating around for at least a year, so the fact that the company unveiled one at its 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference wasn't a shock.

Google's parent had its shares crack US$1,000 on the Nasdaq stock exchange on Monday, just six days after Amazon did the same. I only had a few minutes listening to the three, and the HomePod is the most expensive of them, so you'd expect it to sound better. Its entry into digital-music sales with iTunes, and into the smartphone market with the iPhone, upended those industries and gave them mass appeal. "A smart speaker utilizing an underachieving voice assistant could dampen interest in the product". Google sells Home for US$180, promoting the smart speakers with discounts. Available in both white and space grey, similar to the Sonos Play:3 which is available in black and white, Apple's new wireless home speaker is nearly entirely covered in a "seamless 3D mesh fabric", just leaving enough space at the top for a touch-sensitive display used to control the speaker and show a Siri waveform when the personal assistant is hard at work.

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Perhaps this is why Apple has given up the ghost and allowed one of its arch rivals into its walled garden? The features are part of the Mac software update this fall, to be called High Sierra. Siri will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house.

But Apple is late to the game on VR. Apple isn't saying, and it's probably going to stay that way until we get closer to HomePod's launch in December. Making the most of it will require a subscription to Apple's own music streaming service, which runs $10 to $15 per month and has attracted 27 million subscribers so far.

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HomePod can be paired up with your iPhone 5s or later running the new iOS 11 and the connectivity works just like the AirPods, all you have to do is bring your iPhone in the range and your iPhone will be connected with your HomePod. To show the tools off, Apple invited Wingnut AR, the company formed by "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, on stage. Airships circled above a table, an intricately rendered town below, firing weapons as they weaved. Tim Cook has positioned the company as the anti-Google. The company is stressing machine learning and augmented reality. Apple packed in a ton of power performance into a tiny seven-inch (6.8 if we're being nitpicky) speaker. He says the tools will make hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads capable of the technology.

Last August, Backchannel editor Steven Levy wrote an article titled "The iBrain is Here, and It's Already Inside Your Phone".

Yet how well Apple differentiates its new product with others already widely available is questionable. Amazon and Google took the techie, smart-gadget route, which is perfectly fine. But it was starting to open up - and it did a bit more this week. It features easy integration of machine vision and language processing algorithms.

Apple said Siri will now be able to create appointments on an iPhone after an appointment is booked on a Mac, for example, marking the first time that privacy-conscious Apple has let the assistant work across devices.


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