Apple unveils $349 HomePod to compete with Amazon Echo, Google Home

The research firm eMarketer says than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than double its estimate from last year. Living up to the legacy of those products, Apple says it centered its focus on making HomePod "sound unbelievable". As of now, neither the Echo nor the Google Home speakers can be considered top notch in terms of the quality of the sound they produce. Outside companies' digital music services - presumably including Spotify and Pandora - don't appear to be accessible directly through the Apple speaker.

It is supremely odd that the technology industry's most revered gadget maker, Apple, responded on Monday to a tech device first introduced by a relative gadget lightweight, Amazon. That was according Cook himself this Monday. It unveiled the Apple Watch in September 2014.

Following in Google's footsteps, Siri will also be able to translate and speak phrases from six languages, with more coming later, Apple said. It's just different from what Apple is doing with the HomePod. HomePod is a direct jab at Amazon's Echo and others like it.

It can easily be argued that the market is saturated with speakers pushing themselves as great voice-activated assistants. But the product seems directly inspired by existing smart speakers from Amazon and Google.

The HomePod is Apple's first new gadget in almost three years, following its announcement of the Apple Watch in September 2014. "HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a lovely 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".

It is endlessly convenient to ask Alexa for the time, a weather report, or to order some milk from the store. It's a smart marketing strategy. Apple knows that too.

It also has a "Musicologist" feature for streaming Apple Music through commands barked at Siri, as well as being able to answer queries about the song playing, such as 'who is the guitarist?' and so on.

New features include person-to-person payment in Apple Pay, iMessage being synced across iOS and macOS, augmented reality support as well as a smarter virtual voice assistant Siri.

With Siri capabilities, the HomePod is also "a hub for controlling your smart home accessories", says Apple. "It's the biggest brains ever in a speaker", said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller.

The HomePod can scan the space around it to optimize audio accordingly. Specifically, this would be the A8 fusion processing chip. Inside is the same processor that powers the iPhone and an upward-facing 4-inch woofer. It is the same chip on the company's high-end iPod. It has multi-channel echo cancellation, real-time acoustic modeling and more. It will also be possible to exchange data between gym equipment and the watch.

There are seven horn-loaded tweeters running around the bottom of the speaker, firing out.

More than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than doubling from last year, according to the research firm eMarketer. That does not mean the company won't get there with later editions. With HomePod, only after "Hey Siri" is recognised locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.