Apple Unveils HomePod Speaker and Faster Macs

Apple Unveils HomePod Speaker and Faster Macs

Apple entered the growing field of voice-controlled speakers for the home, taking on early leaders Amazon and Google, according to Bloomberg.

Apple’s speaker, called HomePod, emphasizes the enjoyment of music and looks like a wide can with curved edges. Unlike Amazon’s new Echo Show, Apple’s device does not have a screen. It will allow users to talk to Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, while at home and costs $349, almost double the price of most competing products.

HomePod is Apple’s first major new hardware product since the Apple Watch’s release in 2015, and it comes at an important time for the company. The market for internet-connected speakers and other smart home technology may be big enough to help Apple diversify. Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged nearly 600 percent year-over-year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter.

CEO Tim Cook has stressed the importance of Apple’s services business, predicting it will double in size by 2021. The new speaker establishes a bulwark inside the home to lock customers more tightly into these services. It also combats the competitive threat from Google’s and Amazon’s connected speakers: Those don’t support Apple services like Apple Music, which brings in $10 in revenue per user each month. Without an Apple speaker, consumers seeking smart home devices may opt both for competing hardware and services like Amazon Prime and Google Play Music.

Apple upgraded most of its Mac computers, including a powerful new offering for professional users, showing renewed commitment to a product line that critics say it neglected amid lackluster growth.  At its developer conference they unveiled new iMac desktop computers with brighter displays and faster Kaby Lake chips from Intel and more powerful graphics processing for virtual reality applications.

Updates to the 12-inch MacBook and flagship 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros also included Intel’s Kaby Lake processors to make the laptops more efficient, and could result in improved battery life. These computers cost $1,299 to $2,399, the company said. The 13-inch MacBook Air also got a faster processor in a rare update.

The company’s Mac revenue fell last year, and while well received by many consumers, recent MacBook Pros have been criticized by some longtime Mac loyalists and creative professionals for not meeting some of their needs. Apple has acknowledged that it needs to do better and addressed some of these concerns by unveiling a new iMac Pro with super-fast Intel Xeon chips, AMD’s Radeon Vega graphics processor, and up to 128 GB of pre-installed RAM. Starting at $4,999, its the most expensive and powerful computer Apple has made.

The Mac upgrades are Apple’s first to the MacBook Pro since the computer was revamped last fall with a slimmer design and the Touch Bar touchscreen strip on the keyboard. The 12-inch MacBook was last updated earlier last year with faster chips and a rose gold color option.

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