Apple unveils ‘smart’ speaker


Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Apple nodded to several up-and-coming technology trends, unveiling a new “smart” home speaker and device features touching on virtual reality, online privacy and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.

The “HomePod” speaker unveiled Monday is similar to devices from rivals, some of which have been on the market for years. Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes. Siri will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house.

It is the first new device Apple has announced in almost three years. It unveiled the Apple Watch in September 2014.

Apple “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. That’s especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more “pervasive” way that’s less dependent on smartphones, he said.

The speaker will sell for about $350 in December in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Amazon sells the main version of the Echo for $180; Google’s Home speaker goes for $130.

The Echo, released in 2015, and Google Home, released last year, were the first entrants in a promising market.

KEEPING IT REAL WITH VR

New iMacs unveiled Monday at Apple’s annual conference for software programmers are getting better displays and graphics capabilities. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for developing virtual-reality “experiences.”

But Apple is late to the game on VR. Samsung and Google already have VR systems centered on their smartphones. Facebook, HTC and Sony have high-end VR systems, too.

NEW IPHONE FEATURES

New features coming to iPhones and iPads include messages that sync to Apple servers in the cloud. These devices will keep only the most recent messages in local storage.

For photos, Apple is turning to a “high efficiency” format to replace the widely used JPEG standard. Although the format is not exclusive to Apple, it’s not yet clear how well the photos will work with non-Apple software and devices, which mostly use JPEG.

Apple is also bringing the ability to send money to friends or other people through its payment service, Apple Pay. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.

MAC GETS AN UPGRADE

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the latest operating system for Mac computers. Called High Sierra, it recognizes more faces automatically, which should make it easier to organize photos, and will offer more photo editing tools.

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