Apple kicks off event with virtual reality, browser privacy

Apple on Monday unveiled its "HomePod" speaker as it moved to challenge Amazon Alexa and Google Home as a smart home and music hub.

Apple Inc.'s first major new product for two years, the HomePod speaker, marks the biggest effort yet from the technology company to use its Siri digital assistant to keep customers wedded to a growing palette of products and services.

"Apple reinvented portable music with iPod and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes", said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

It took a while for Apple to respond to Amazon's Echo and Google's Home, but the much rumoured "Siri speaker" is finally here. With the HomePod, only after Hey Siri is recognized locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.


Apple also offered some hints about new capabilities in the next iPhone, including so-called augmented reality, in which digital information is overlaid on real-world images.

Just like any other smart speaker the HomePod also has six powerful microphones that mean it can hear commands from the other side of the room even when there's loud music playing. There is talk of updates to the Mac and iPad series to be announced at the Conference. Siri was originally developed at SRI International as part of a DARPA-funded artificial intelligence project called CALO (Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes) and spun out as a startup; Apple purchased it in 2010. But the product seems directly inspired by existing smart speakers from Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) and Google (GOOGL, Tech30). Apple said the same chip used in the iPhone will power the speaker. Particularly, Amazon, Google and Sonos have all been vying for consumers with varying makes, models and success.

As another piece of news to be released later this year, Apple is expected to share more details about tvOS, which we are also excited about. Amazon sells the main version of the Echo for $180; Google's Home speaker goes for $130.

During this week's conference, Apple also discussed significant software upgrades for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch and debuted new iPad and Mac computer models.

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