New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

The speaker is powered by Apple's digital assistant Siri, which is meant to help the user find new music, as well as acting as a general home assistant. Yes, you can do the same thing with an Amazon Echo or a Google Home, but remember: This is an Apple gadget.

Multiple HomePods can be networked together, but that will cost a pretty sum given each speaker costs $349 (£270). But Apple (AAPL, Tech30) was careful to frame it as a product focused on music first - potentially differentiating it from the Echo and Home.

Overall control of the HomePod can be maintained from the Home app, and Apple also revealed users will be able to pair their phone with HomePod by holding it next to the speaker.

"It's so cool, we really believe it is going to take your home music experience to the next level", Apple chief executive Tim Cook said of the new device.

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To be available on the market in December this year, the compact wireless speaker has some identical functions offered by similar products made by other companies, such as Amazon Echo, but promises to produce sound with higher quality, Xinhua reported.

The Echo, released in 2015, and Google Home, released previous year, have helped plant the seeds for a promising market.

After all, the market for such devices is growing fast, and projected to keep expanding: in a report this month, research firm eMarketer predicted almost 36 million Americans will use a speaker-based voice-assistant each month this year, more than twice as many as a year ago.

This isn't Apple's first attempt to enter the home audio market. 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. During Jobs' last decade, Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad - all huge commercial successes that both reshaped daily life and swamped previous digital music players, smartphones and tablets. It's nowhere near as intelligent as the Google Home, which is powered by the Assistant and taps into Google Search. The company "can't afford to yield valuable real-estate in the heart of people's homes to Amazon, Google and others", said Geoff Blaber, research analyst at CCS Insight. For HomePod it's Siri, and for Amazon Echo it's Alexa. Apple didn't say whether or not the mobile version of Safari will also get auto-play video blocking. New iMacs released Monday are getting better displays and graphics capabilities.

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The latest version of Apple's Safari browser will be able to stop automatically playing videos as well as online trackers used for advertisers.

The annual WWDC starts today and will run through June 9 in San Jose, California. It will not block the ads themselves, though.

HomePod does plug into an outlet for power, but will stream from your iPhone, iPad or connected Apple device wirelessly.

The company also rolled out tools for developers to create augmented reality applications for iPhones and iPads.

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The technology, a feature of the wildly successfully smartphone game Pokemon Go, overlays digital information on real-world images and is seen as an area in which the keenly awaited 10th-anniversary iPhone can stand out from competitors. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.

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