Apple today unveiled its own voice-activated smart home speaker, the HomePod.
Set to begin shipping in December, the speaker is designed to be spatially aware, meaning that it understands the room it is in and adjusts the audio accordingly for maximum quality.
The speaker is priced at $349, a much higher price point than competing smart speakers. The Amazon Echo is priced at $180, and Google Home is $109. The new Echo Show from Amazon is coming out later this month, and it will retail for $230.
Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, showed off the speaker at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose today and said its musical and smart home capabilities go beyond the competition, hence the high price tag.
“There certainly are a lot of companies hard at work making products to enjoy music in our homes, but none of them have quite nailed it yet,” Schiller said. “Some have worked hard to make wireless music sound good around our homes, but these aren’t smart speakers. Others have worked to make smart speakers you can talk to, but they don’t sound so great when you listen to music. We want to combine all this into a product that can really deliver a breakthrough experience, and our team has been hard at work now for many years on a breakthrough home speaker.”
Within the seven-inch tall speaker, Apple’s digital brain Siri becomes a “musicologist.” Schiller said Siri can handle more complex commands than requests to play something. The array of six microphones can pick up the wake word, Hey Siri, from across a room, even when loud music is playing.
The HomePod can also do many of the things we’ve come to expect from smart speakers: set reminders, read the news and check sports scores. The device also lets people control connected devices through Apple HomeKit and send texts via Messages.
As Schiller noted, Apple has been working on the speaker for several years. The company clearly has expectations as it compared its impact to that of iTunes and later the iPod.
“Just like we did with portable music, we want to reinvent home music,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.
The HomePod is another example of the growth and desirability of voice technology. Amazon has a big lead in the market as the first mover, but it is battling other tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. A new forecast from eMarketer estimates that Amazon will have a 71 percent market share of all voice-enabled speakers in the U.S. this year.
A recent survey from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon has sold more than 10 million Alexa-powered Echo devices since late 2014.
Amazon, which unveiled a new Echo Show touch-screen device earlier this month, reported in April that Alexa now has more than 12,000 skills.