Technology

Apple just unveiled an Amazon Echo competitor that’s twice the price

Two years after the Amazon Echo first hit stores, and eight months after Google introduced the Home, Apple on Monday finally introduced its own speaker.

The $349 HomePod is being positioned as a product that will reinvent “the home music experience,” according to CEO Tim Cook when he introduced the product at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California. Whereas the Echo and Home are pitched as entry points for a whole ecosystem of artificially intelligent, voice-powered services and devices, the HomePod is being pitched as a high-quality music player that happens to be integrated with Apple’s Siri voice assistant.

The speaker is just under seven inches tall, comes in three colors (grey, black, and white), and will start shipping in December. The $349 price tag is a bit more expensive than comparably-sized internet-connected speakers, nearly double the price of the Amazon Echo, and more than double the Google Home.

When compared to the Echo and the Home, the HomePod faces an uphill battle in the voice-powered speaker market.

Amazon’s Echo commands 70.6 percent of the U.S. market and Google Home has 23.8 percent, according to a recent eMarketer report. However, the market for such devices is nascent and expected to grow by 129 percent this year to 35.6 million users. And Apple’s biggest consumer hits — such as the iPhone or the iPod — haven’t historically been the first in their category.

Nevertheless, at least one analyst expects it to sell. “I would bet that Apple will sell a lot of these at Christmas and into next year,” said Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson in a note.

While Apple may hope that people buy into the idea of HomePod serving a different, more musical purpose than its Amazon and Google rivals, people really like using their speakers for services beyond listening to music. And while no voice A.I. service is a true standout yet, Apple is considered a laggard behind Amazon’s and Google’s A.I. assistant efforts.

Beyond its smart speaker, Apple made a slew of other major hardware announcements on Monday, including a long-awaited refresh of its laptops, desktops, and high-end iPad Pros.

Tim Cook also finally followed up on years of interviews in which he said that Apple was interested in augmented reality. He introduced ARKit, a set of software tools that will allow developers to make high-quality AR apps for iPhones and iPads.

To close out the WWDC keynote, Tim Cook announced that former First Lady Michelle Obama would be speaking at the event on Tuesday. An Apple spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request about whether Michelle Obama was being compensated by Apple for her appearance.

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