Look out Alexa: Apple announces 'HomePod,' a smart home audio speaker

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First it was Amazon, then it was Google and now it's Apple's turn to have a crack at a voice-activated home assistant speaker.

Apple has finally unveiled its answer to Amazon's and Google's smart speakers slash digital assistants - and it's called HomePod. It's no surprise, but there's integration with the Apple Music online subscription. But Apple was careful to frame it as a product focused on music first - potentially differentiating it from the Echo and Home.

Apple Inc is expected to announce plans next week to make its Siri voice assistant work with a larger variety of apps, as the technology company looks to counter the runaway success of Amazon.com Inc's competing Alexa service.

Apple will begin shipping the HomePod to the United States, Britain and Australia in December. The voice-powered virtual assistant, which powers Amazon's Echo speakers, can also now schedule reminders so you don't forget to take the trash out in the morning or pay your credit card bill, for instance. 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 double its estimate from last year. In other words, you should be able to use these new commands and features from the middle of June 2017. Developers will keep an eye out for hints about new capabilities in the next iPhone, such as so-called augmented reality, in which digital information is overlaid on real-world images. HomeKit control is also available, thanks to the power of Siri. It would mark an effort by Apple to catch up with Amazon and Google. Artificial intelligence is software that enables machines act like humans in a more dynamic way.

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After some setup, Alexa can order a pizza from Domino's, while Siri cannot get a pie because food delivery is not - so far - one of the categories of apps that Apple has opened up to Siri.

Apple said it will be the "most powerful Mac" the company has ever made. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for development virtual-reality "experiences". The most popular paid apps are usually games.

Taking direct aim at services like PayPal, Apple debuted peer-to-peer payments for Apple Pay in which users will be able to send money through the Messages app on iPhones. Some of the most intriguing augmentations that you can expect on Siri when iOS 11 goes live include on-device learning that will help out with recommendations and contextual understanding.

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