New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

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The device stands 7 inches tall and is lined with a mesh fabric similar to the base of the Google Home or exterior of an Amazon Tap.

The device was previewed on stage Monday at WWDC, Apple's annual developer conference in San Jose.

Apple has finally unveiled its answer to Amazon's and Google's smart speakers slash digital assistants - and it's called HomePod.

Apple will let people play audio in multiple rooms while Google works on introducing that feature to all speakers that have Chromecast built in. The speaker only sends information to Apple when it detects the " Hey Siri" trigger phrase, much like Amazon and Google only transfer audio snippets when their respective wake words have been said.

HomePod will be listed for $349.

On the software front, RBC Capital analyst Amit Daryanani expects the iOS 11 — the next operating system for Apple's iPhones and iPads — to get an overhaul that will accommodate the anticipated removal of the home button from the 10th anniversary model of the iPhone due out later this year.

Also, in important news for the upcoming macOS release, High Sierra, there will be an update to Safari that helps block site trackers and autoplaying videos - something that seems to be an epidemic on media sites right now and it drives me, personally, insane. Daryanani said Apple may also announce an iPad Pro with a faster processor in an attempt to revive its long-slumping tablet sales.

The speaker, while expected by some industry watchers, marked Apple's first new product announcement since the Apple Watch in September 2014. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for developing virtual-reality "experiences", although the company didn't announce any consumer VR products.

Apple doesn't have to necessarily be ahead of the curve - its most successful products have come from polishing and repackaging good ideas.

We won't see the new speaker in market until later this year, with Apple listing pricing at $US349 when it ships in December.

Apple also shared the latest version of watchOS4, which continues to put the emphasis on the Apple Watch as a fitness device.

The money can be stored on a virtual card and used with Apple Pay, which Apple expects will be accepted in 50 percent of USA retailers by the end of the year.

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.

The lack of a breakthrough device has periodically raised concerns that Apple has become too dependent on the iPhone.

The speaker is part of Apple's smart home drive, which began with Apple HomeKit.

Siri's name recognition could play a role in HomePod adoption.

But really, this is Apple's admission that it needed to kick the voice command can down the road a bit and strengthen Siri but it goes gunning for Google and Amazon.