Apple unveils an Amazon Echo competitor

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Apple HomePod is the smart speaker that wants to be at the center of your home audio experience, and that's great news for iPhone and iPad users.

It's turning to machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to make that happen.

The announcements follow complaints that Apple has let its Mac computers languish in favor of its better-selling products, namely the iPhone.

Some industry-watchers have also predicted Apple will announce hardware similar to Amazon's Echo device for the home, which has been a hot-seller in the USA. Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes.

Amazon's beefing up some basic features in Alexa, its voice-controlled assistant. Here's everything we know so far, including HomePod's price, specs, key features, and United Kingdom release date.

Apple says its history of "reinventing portable music" through iTunes and the iPod means it is in a strong position to challenge its rivals. Just say "Alexa, remind me to pick up the dry cleaning on Saturday at 10 a.m.", for instance, and the virtual assistant will make sure to jog your memory when it's time. The HomePod is powered by Apple's A8 chip and will be available from December in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA, which will be getting the initial batch of speakers in White and Space Grey at $349 (roughly Rs. 22,500).

Amazon introduced the Echo speaker, featuring its Alexa assistant, in 2015.

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Google has its own smart speaker that was released in response to the Echo, though the Google Home clearly isn't putting much of a dent in Alexa speaker sales. The research firm eMarketer says than 35 million people in the USA are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than doubling from last year.

The Siri face for the Apple Watch was the first step in that direction, blending users' calendar information with other useful details, like airline tickets they may have booked.

Apple's smart assistant is about to get a lot smarter.

Amazon is constantly updating Alexa with new skills, ranging from the mundane to the critical-reminders and lists being the latter.

Siri is also getting a new voice on the iPhone - and will come with a male option for the first time.

"There is so much momentum building around these speakers that it would be hard for Apple not to come out with one", said industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.

Available in December, it won't be cheap-$349-but Apple boasts that it will have better audio than its competition. It will not block the ads themselves, though.