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Apple Announces Smart Home Audio Speaker HomePod

Apple is taking on Amazon Echo and Google Home: The company announced a new voice-controlled speaker during its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., on Monday. Dubbed HomePod, the new speaker features voice control and spatial awareness to adapt the sound to different rooms.

“It will reinvent home audio,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

However, the company kept mum on many details, instead giving attending journalists and developers a much broader pitch, which goes a bit like this: There have been Wi-Fi-connected speakers like Sonos for some time, but those devices are still pretty cumbersome. And then there’s a new generation of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, but those don’t really sound good.

HomePod wants to be the best of both worlds, without being that much more expensive than some of its key competitors: The Apple-made speaker will cost consumers $349, and ship in December in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Apple said it would make the device available in additional markets next year.

Apple did share a few technical details about the speaker hardware. HomePod uses seven beam-forming tweeters as well as an upward-facing woofer for audio playback, and an array of six microphones for voice control. HomePod uses the company’s A8 chip, which Apple also used to use for its mobile devices, and a multicolor LED light on top of the device will signal whenever Siri is listening.

Apple was a bit more coy about the features that will set HomePod apart from its competition. Apple SVP Phil Schiller highlighted a number of Siri-powered voice features that sound familiar to anyone who owns an Amazon Echo or a Google Home: Consumers will be able to ask HomePod to play their favorite music, podcasts, and radio streams.

They will be able to check sports scores, set alarms, timers and reminders, and control compatible smart devices — all features that were previously debuted by Amazon and Google. They will be able to pair two HomePod speakers for a stereo setup, and the sound will be optimized based on the acoustic quality of a room — two features that Sonos is known for. There’s also no word yet on support for third-party services, or ways for developers to adapt their services for HomePod.

Bloomberg reported last week that the company had begun to manufacture the device.

This isn’t Apple’s first attempt to enter the home audio market. The company announced a standalone speaker dubbed the iPod HiFI in 2006, but discontinued the device soon after. Beats Electronics was also working on a Wi-Fi-equipped speaker when it was acquired by Apple in 2014, but Apple decided to kill the project before it was publicly announced.

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