Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Business

Apple takes on Amazon Echo and Google Home with its own smart speaker

Apple replaced record collections with the iPod and earned front-pocket real estate with the iPhone.

Now it's going after a bigger target: your home.

The Cupertino, Calif., company announced Monday at its annual World Wide Developers Conference in San Jose the HomePod, a home speaker with Apple's digital assistant Siri built into it.

Similar to Amazon's Echo and Google's Home — voice-activated, Internet-connected speakers that play music, answer questions and provide information such as the news, weather, sports updates and metric conversions — the HomePod listens and responds to voice commands.

Using the HomePod is like using Siri, without the need to tap any buttons. To get its attention, users simply say, "Hey, Siri."

About 7 inches tall, the device is wrapped in a mesh fabric and comes in white and dark gray. Powered by an A8 chip — the same chip found in the iPhone — it is also spatially aware, modifying the direction of sound to suit its environment.

Starting at $349, the device, which ships in December, is nearly double the cost of the Amazon Echo ($179.99) and more than three times the price of the Google Home ($109).

The price tag isn't surprising, according to technology analysts, who said Apple has always sold its products at a higher price point because it wants to convey that its gadgets are more premium than the competition's.

And while its competition has had a head start — the Amazon Echo launched in 2014 for Amazon Prime members and the Google Home was released last year — experts in voice and visual search said instead of being late to the party, Apple could raise the bar like it did for digital music players when it launched the iPod, or smartphones, as it did with the iPhone.

"Voice is the next frontier for search and discovery, and there are lots of opportunities to leverage voice command within the home," said Michael Levine, vice president of marketing at Photon, a firm that creates voice-based digital experiences. "It definitely puts a dent into Google Home."

During its developers conference, Apple highlighted the difference between the HomePod and the Echo, saying that while the Echo was "smart" compared to wireless speakers such Sonos' offerings, its sound quality left much to be desired. The HomePod, in comparison, was the best of both worlds.

"It's a great dance they're doing," Levine said, because as powerful as Apple's technology may be, Amazon remains the market leader and has a built-in market in Amazon Prime subscribers.

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