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HomePod, Apple's $349 Siri-enabled speaker, hits in 2018

The wait is almost over. Here's Apple's Siri-powered answer to the Amazon Echo and the Google Home.

Now Playing: Watch this: Apple's HomePod is a smart speaker for your home
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Like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home, Apple's HomePod is a multitasking voice control assistant.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

For months we heard rumors of a Siri-powered rival to the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. At Apple's 2017 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 5, it finally happened. Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, debuted the HomePod on stage during the WWDC keynote address.

Here's everything we can confirm about the HomePod right now:

  • $349 (£270/AU$465, converted)
  • Available in early 2018 in the US, UK and Australia
  • Sends messages
  • Siri integration
  • HomeKit-compatible
  • Can work with Apple Music subscription 
  • Spatial awareness
  • White and space gray color finishes 

But iOS developers Steve Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo also spotted something interesting in the code of a recent -- and likely accidental -- HomePod firmware update. Troughton-Smith took to Twitter on July 28 to outline what he deciphered in the code:

  • HomePod's "shell" app is called SoundBoard
  • Its apps start with "Air" (AirPodcasts, AirMusic) and it runs a "full iOS stack"
  • The middle of the HomePod's surface looks like an "LED matrix"
  • The +/- buttons on the top of the HomePod control Siri, volume, alarms and timers

Apple did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

We're excited Apple's speaker will be here after the first of the year, but it's also been a long time coming. (The Homepod release date had been originally announced for December, but was pushed back to "early 2018" in mid-November.)  Apple announced its software platform, HomeKit, at WWDC 2014. A few months later, Amazon began selling the Echo -- a $180 plug-in Wi-Fi voice-controlled speaker that answers to the wake word, "Alexa." Alexa's open software makes it easy for developers to create their own uses for the Echo and Amazon's other speakers -- the $20 Dash Wand, $50 Echo Dot, the $130 Tap, the $200 Echo Look  and the $230 Echo Show

Set an Echo on your kitchen counter and ask Alexa to play music and even to control lights, door locks and other home appliances while you prepare dinner. The Google Home, Google's $130 Echo competitor (announced in May 2016) works in much the same way. Say "OK, Google," or "Hey, Google" and the Google Assistant will kick into listening mode.

HomeKit, by comparison, has lived exclusively in iOS devices for three years, without a companion piece of hardware to call home. That means anyone without an iPhone or iPad was automatically excluded from HomeKit. A standalone Siri speaker should make HomeKit much more accessible to Android customers, children and other family members who'd rather not use an iPhone to ask Siri a question.

Manufacturers wanting to integrate with Apple's smart-home platform also have to stick an MFi chip in their products before they hit shelves. So instead of a simple software update that would extend to existing customers, companies have to introduce second-generation versions of their products with an MFi chip installed. This happened with the Ecobee3 thermostat, the August Smart Lock, the Lutron Smart Bridge and a wide range of other products. 

The question now is whether Apple's Siri speaker will be enough to compete with Amazon and Google at this late stage. Amazon has set itself apart with its sheer number of Alexa products and open software. And while Google has just one piece of hardware, it's quickly catching up to Alexa in terms of features. I particularly like that you can enlist the Google Home to follow along with a recipe or to turn on your favorite Netflix show (if you also have Chromecast).

Apple's Siri speaker will be available in the first part of 2018. 

Update, Aug. 4: Added details garnered from the HomePod software leak. 

Update, Dec. 1: Updated to include push-back of release date.

Where to Buy

Apple HomePod (White)

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