New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

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The $349 HomePod wifi speaker has 7 beam-forming tweeters, a custom subwoofer, multi-channel echo cancelling, and acoustic modeling in an Apple-y little futuristic shell, trumpeted VP Phil Schiller.

Apple's recent emphasis on privacy and encryption could give it an edge here: The company said HomePod won't send anything to a remote server until it hears "Hey, Siri", meaning that it will conduct basic language processing locally on the device so as not to snoop, even innocently, on its users.

HomePod capped a keynote presentation that included updates to Apple's iPad and Mac laptop lines, and upgraded operating software enabling augmented reality for iPhones and iPads. And it would mark an effort by Apple to catch up with Amazon and Google. The Apple Watch is the company's most innovative product of the past few years, and its growth has been steady but slow.

At WWDC 2017 tonight, Apple is widely believed to unveil its Amazon Echo and Google Home competitor - the Siri speaker.

HomePod will take on lower priced Amazon Echo and Google Home, which have had momentum in the arena of voice-controlled speakers capable of controlling smart appliances, fetching content from the internet and more.

High Sierra will be released later this year as a free update, according to Federighi.

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Other features coming to the Mac include the ability to stop video from automatically playing on websites when using Safari. By saying, "Hey Siri, I like this song", HomePod and Apple Music become the ideal musicologist, learning preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists, and these music tastes are shared across devices.

It starts shipping later this year in the US, United Kingdom and Australia.

In a nod to Amazon streaming fans, Apple is also bringing Amazon Prime to its Apple TV app. 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.

Finally, Apple is preparing to launch a file management app for iOS 11.0 or later. If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple's first new product since its smartwatch in 2015. They were just the best overall. Siri, a digital assistant that has been on Apple's iPhone since 2011, will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house.

The speaker is part of Apple's smart home drive, which began with Apple HomeKit. For Apple, having one would further broaden the role that its software, services and gadgets play in people's lives. In accordance with the audiophile theme, Siri on the HomePod will gain a new knowledge base that Apple calls "Musicologist", allowing it to answer questions such as, "Who's the drummer on this track?"

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