Tim Cook explains why Apple's HomePod is better than the Amazon Echo

Isaac Cain
June 10, 2017

"We really believe it is going to take your home music experience to the next level", Apple chief executive Tim Cook said as he unveiled it. Apple also updated its MacBook laptops with faster processors. These giants are battling over still-emerging fields that are expected to turn into technological gold mines, much the way personal computers and smartphones became moneymaking machines in previous decades.

Apple is launching a smart home speaker called HomePod to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices, the company revealed at its annual worldwide developer conference.

At US$349 (RM1,485), the HomePod is more expensive than the most-expensive Amazon Echo - the US$230 (RM979) Echo Show - and the Google Home, priced at US$129 (RM549).

In terms of looks, the 7-inch tall HomePod boasts a lovely design language with curvy column-like structure with visually appealing textured contours. Making the most of it will require a subscription to Apple's own music streaming service, which runs $10 to $15 per month and has attracted 27 million subscribers so far.

Apple said the speakers have "spatial awareness" that adjusts the speaker's sound levels to the acoustic conditions of the particular room. Beyond a visual overhaul, Apple could include updates to Apple Music and some core apps like Maps.

The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.'s Echo and Alphabet Inc.'s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple's product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren't yet public.

A survey released last month by research firm eMarketer found Echo speakers held 70.6 percent of the United States market, compared with 23.8 percent for Google Home. Apple says its smart home speaker delivers a right balance of sound quality as well as smart assistance, something the competition hasn't accomplished yet.

There were few wow moments, though, extending a trend in recent years of incremental refinements that keep loyalists happy but which fail to carve out huge new markets, like the first iPhones or iPods did.

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Phil Schiller, senior VP of marketing at Apple had the job of explaining what the new product is meant to do. Compared with Google and Amazon, HomeKit device support is extremely limited.

Since wearables and tablets failed miserably for most, the tech world now seems focused on assistant products and smart home speakers, or a combination of the two. Apple said HomePod can pick up the commands from across the room with a 6-microphone array.

If you've got the cash for these new iMacs with similar design and refreshed internals, it will set you back by at least $1,099. Apple says that makes the Mac a great platform for developing virtual-reality experiences.

In front of thousands of developers, Apple's announcement of ARKit, a developer kit that allows mobile developers to create augmented reality apps, drew raucous reactions. It will block videos that start playing automatically, for instance, and can also prevent ads from following and profiling users.

The new version of MacOS, which powers Apple's desktops and laptop computers will also likely be demonstrated. By the same token, you can drive beefier speakers with a $50 Echo Dot, but Apple's solution is less cluttered and it offers whole-home audio support.

As MoneyWatch's sister site CNET noted, SIRI was slow to improve its voice-recognition technology, which made it less responsive than either Alexa or Google Assistant, which debuted in November.

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.

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