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Smart Home

Apple already controls your life, now HomePod wants your home

Apple just showed off a smart speaker because you don't spend enough time on its products already. It also shakes up WWDC with a new iOS, iPad Pro and AR.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Apple's road to dominating your life runs through your home. 

That's why the consumer electronics giant just unveiled the HomePod, a smart speaker designed to control the connected gadgets in your house, provide news and weather updates and, of course, play music. It marks the first new product category since the Apple Watch debuted more than two years ago and has the company jumping into an area where Amazon's Echo speakers reign supreme. 

homepod

Apple marketing executive Phillip Schiller shows off the new HomePod speaker. 

James Martin/CNET

In addition, Apple showed off upgraded iMacs, MacBooks and made its pitch to professionals with the more powerful iMac Pro and the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro. 

The products underscore a break from the typical Worldwide Developer Conference. Apple's annual confab for its most hardcore -- and technically savvy -- community is typically focused on software updates and new features in its growing stable of operating systems. Apple stepped up its game this year, after 2016's conference took a scattershot approach that offered few standouts despite a dizzying array of news

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Beyond the new products, Apple talked about a new direction in the form of augmented reality, technology that overlays digital images on the real world, as seen with Pokemon Go or Snapchat filters. The company introduced ARKit, a set of tools that lets developers build AR apps into iPhones and iPads. 

It's no coincidence that Apple brought more substantial announcements to this year's conference. The company has watched as fellow tech titans Microsoft, Facebook and Google touted whiz-bang developments in artificial intelligence, better digital assistants, messaging, image recognition, AR and virtual reality. These companies are positioning themselves to shape the future of our tech worlds, and Apple doesn't want to be left behind.  

Apple unloaded in a two-hour-plus presentation that touched on everything from new products to new features coming to iOS 11. Here are the highlights:

Hello HomePod

Apple has a product that promises to "rock the house." But what if that house is already rockin'?

That's the situation that Apple finds itself as it showed off its HomePod, a speaker that looks and acts a lot like competing products from Amazon and Google. The only hitch is Amazon has been at this since late 2014 with its family of Echo speakers, and Google introduced its Home speaker last year. 

Apple presents the HomePod as a high-end speaker with surround sound, the ability to recognize where it is spatially and a DJ able to provide you with the best tunes. It will also tap into Siri's voice-recognition abilities to answer questions and control the smart home, but much of the time was spent talking about audio quality. 

"Apple is smart to position it as music centric rather than yet another smart speaker or just a home for a digital assistant," said Jan Dawson, an analyst at Jackdaw Research. "That both plays to Apple's strength and history in music and avoids the direct comparison in terms of price because this really does a lot more." 

The company will need to show why the speaker is markedly better than the competition due to the price gap. At $349, it is far more expensive than the Echo ($180) and Home ($129). Amazon's most popular speaker, the Echo Dot, is only $50. 

Apple has some time to make its case -- the HomePod won't come out until December. 

A new reality

Apple is finally getting into augmented reality, and looks to do it in a big way. 

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, touted it's "overnight, the largest AR platform in the world," because of how many people own iOS devices. 

The tools are supposed to make Pokemon Go work even better

"It's likely that Apple will enable brands to more simply integrate augmented reality features into their apps, based on new sensors to be embedded into future Apple smartphones," said Forrester analyst Thomas Husson.

It's no surprise that Apple wants to get into this field. ABI Research predicts that AR revenue -- combining consumer and business software and hardware -- will total $96 billion in 2021, up from $1.4 billion this year.

"We don't have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: It's for everyone," Cook previously said in an interview with The Independent. "I think AR is that big, it's huge."

At its Google I/O developer conference last month, the company unveiled a big push into augmented reality through Google Lens. It's a way to use your phone's camera to recognize objects. Point it at a book, and you get information on the author and see reviews.

Along with its big push in VR with Oculus, Facebook at its F8 conference in April said it's working on AR glasses. It also unveiled a platform that lets outside software developers create AR experiences for the social networking site.

An iPad that's just right?

If the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is too small to get work done and the 12.9-inch one is too cumbersome, maybe the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is the perfect compromise?

That's what Apple is hoping as it rolls out yet another size for its tablet line. The new version crams in more screen with a thinner frame on the side, a faster processor, a slicker display and the same 12-megapixel camera found on the iPhone 7.

The new iPad Pro starts at $649, £619 or AU$979. 

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The new iPad Pro is supposed to work with the Pencil accessory more effectively. 

Apple

Apple also introduced a number of updates coming with its iOS 11 software, including a larger dock, the ability to drag and drop images and text, as well as better file management. The features are designed to make the iPad more useful to professionals, so you create content on the tablet, as opposed to just consume. It's the same pitch Microsoft has made with its Surface Pro line of tablets. 

At this point, the iPad needs all the help it can get. The lineup, once the company's hottest product line, has been in freefall for the past couple of years. Consumers have been holding on to their tablets for longer and opting to purchase bigger-screen iPhones and Macs instead. To help counteract the drop, Apple in late 2015 introduced its iPad Pro devices that work with specialized keyboards and stylus pencils. 

It hasn't helped. The company in May said it sold 8.9 million iPads it its fiscal second quarter, down from 10.3 million a year earlier. The quarter marked the 13th-straight decline in Apple's tablet unit sales. 

Winning back the professionals

Professionals who rely on powerful equipment have felt the short shrift from Apple in recent years, but that changed on Monday.

The company introduced upgraded iMacs powerful enough to handle advanced gaming and augmented reality, as well as an even more souped-up version called the iMac Pro

One computer that's also been update-free for years is the popular, entry level MacBook Air. The 13-inch computer, which starts at $999, hasn't had so much as new chips since 2015. And while many people have clamored for the device to get a high-resolution Retina Display, Apple has resisted. Today, it merited a passing mention, saying it would get an upgrade in processor speed -- and not much more (it didn't even merit showing up on the slides).  

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OS updates galore

Apple's once-simple breakdown between iOS (mobile) and OS X (desktop) has now grown to include TVOS for its Apple TV box and WatchOS for its Apple Watch. The desktop software has been renamed MacOS. 

Updates to its software took center stage at Apple's developer conference in 2016, but Apple quickly ran through some of the big updates of its various operating systems. Some key updates you need to be aware of: