Apple launches the HomePod, a Siri-powered wireless speaker

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the opening keynote address the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose California

Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, Apple's HomePod speaker will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes.

Analysts said the smart home speaker market is ripe for Apple.

The speaker, while expected by some industry watchers, marked Apple's first new product announcement since the Apple Watch in September 2014.

It's hard to say how much hype will accompany the physical arrival of the HomePod, but there's a long history of shoppers going to extreme lengths to buy new Apple devices the moment they're available. Some Apple fans also paid more than double the retail price on eBay for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus a few seasons ago rather than wait a few weeks for them to be back in stock in stores.

REUTERS/Stephen LamPhotographers take a close look at the Apple HomePod which the company unveiled at the WWDC 2017 in California. It clearly costs more than the other brands but Apple is confident that the product and its state-of-the-art features will justify its price. (Many reviewers have suggested that the current incarnation of Apple's assistant already trails competitors in key respects.) "This is the start of the AI wars", he said. If users could ask Alexa to conduct shopping searches for them and show options through Fire TV, the TV would serve as a good visual addition to the smart assistant. "And so we don't let that impatience result in shipping something that's just not great".

HomePod will be available for $349 (US) in white and space gray starting in December initially in Australia, the United Kingdom and the US.1 HomePod is compatible with iPhone 5s and later, running iOS 11.

It is created to work with the Apple Music subscription service and can produce rich sound while tapping into the artificial intelligence power of Siri.

Siri can do those things, too, but Apple's pitch for Siri-powered HomePod is instead focused heavily on music - the company appears to bank on consumers paying for smart speakers that deliver high-quality audio sound as a sort of gateway into the world of smart home assistants. The presentation focused on how strong the performance of the speaker is, with the smart assistant features presented nearly as an afterthought.

"We want powerful machine learning to be easier to use in your apps", software chief Craig Federighi said as he unveiled a toolkit that allows developers to use Apple's AI technology.

Apple also introduced a new version of its business-oriented iPad Pro at an intermediate size with more storage, a better display and an improved camera. With 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. Cook has always been bullish about the prospects for augmented reality, and Apple is working on smart glasses, people familiar with the plans have said. Last year's confab saw Siri opened up to third-party developers for the first time.

Limp said Amazon would be willing to work alongside partners like Apple or Google to ensure their competing virtual assistants would be compatible.

The event started with Apple CEO welcoming the audience, praising the Apple developer community which already has 16 million registered developers and added three million previous year.

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