Apple's HomePod Siri speaker takes on Google, Sonos

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Tapping Apple's Siri digital assistant, such a speaker is expected to serve as a butler as well as an outlet for listening to music.

Both new features are pretty straightforward in what they offer.

The expansion of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled services from companies including Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung Electronics is expected to drive growth of the AI-powered digital assistants market, which is on track to exceed 4-billion consumer devices by the end of 2017, according to HIS Markit. You can also easily cancel or check how much time is left on a specific timer; just say "Alexa, cancel the pasta timer", for instance, or "Alexa, how much time is left on my garlic bread timer?"

Apple's narrower focus, however, could become a problem, said Matt McIlwain, a venture capitalist with Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group.

Amazon has a almost two-year head start with its popular Echo home speaker, which has thousands of skills and features using its Alexa virtual assistant. A preview of a new high-powered iMac Pro desktop, due to be released later this year, was also teased.

Apple's strict adherence to profit goals can potentially hinder experiments and runs counter to efforts to pitch itself as more than a hardware company, even though Apple generates 88 percent of its annual sales from iPhones, computers, iPads, headphones and other hardware.

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.

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Siri will be integrated into the US$349 speaker, and will make music recommendations that pair with the company's Apple Music service, send text messages, check news and sports scores, and control home gadgets like lightbulbs and thermostats.

■ Some of the most popular apps, such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, don't cost anything.

The HomePod will support Apple's home automation system HomeKit and Apple Music.

The next version of iOS, which powers the iPhone and iPad, as well as desktop software macOS and the Apple Watch's watchOS were also updated at the firm's Worldwide Developer Conference, WWDC. It needs to be plugged in to a physical wall socket and it's able to do a litany of tasks if you ask it - through Siri, of course. That makes it a bit taller than the portly Google Home, and slightly shorter than canister-shaped Amazon Echo.

Christened the Apple HomePod, the squat but stylish device will take on not only early leaders Google and Amazon in the voice-controlled speaker market but Sonos for high-quality multi-room audio.

Amazon just unveiled a version of Echo with a camera, touch-screen display and video-calling capabilities.

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