Apple puts Siri helper at center of home-tech empire

It's a fair bit costlier than the $179 Echo, but Apple has the advantage of years of experience perfecting the Siri voice assistant that launched in 2011.

The company rolled out new tools for developers to create augmented reality applications for iPhones and iPads. At price point alone, Amazon offers a broad selection of options from the $49.99 Echo Dot to the upcoming $229 touchscreen-powered Echo Show.

Apple Inc. introduced Monday a music speaker, its first hardware since Apple Watch was rolled out two years ago, at an annual gathering of software developers. The Google Home lets you set either of those music services as your default, while the Echo lets you choose from Amazon Music and Spotify. You can also tell Siri you like a certain song, and it'll remember your tastes. A HomePod is spatially aware, meaning it can analyze the acoustics of a room and adjust sound based on its location in that room.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged almost 600 per cent year-over-year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon taking about 88 per cent share and Google 10 percent, according to consultant Strategy Analytics. Microsoft also has announced its own speaker with Samsung's Harman business; it will use Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant.

Rumors circulated last week that Apple might announce a voice-response smart speaker that uses its Siri personal assistant. Although that product came out after other smartwatches hit the market, it quickly outshone competitors, according to industry research firms.

The lack of a breakthrough device has periodically raised concerns that Apple has become too dependent on the iPhone and supported the theory that the company lost its knack for innovation when its co-founder Steve Jobs died of cancer in 2011. The HomePod is able to listen to you while playing music no matter how far you are from the device or how loud the music is playing.

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But Apple is very blunt about its intentions here: It wants people to see the HomePod as a quality speaker first, with Siri as added value on top. Google already tries to be proactive with its Assistant on Android phones and Google Home speaker. That's especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more "pervasive" way that's less dependent on smartphones, he said. You can use HomePod for reminders, timers, and to control connected HomeKit products. Apple's entry into the market could change that.

New iMacs are getting brighter displays and graphics capabilities.

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

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Siri also has a new screen in the Apple Watch which presents data and information that may echo earlier behavior at a similar time of day or the week.

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