New smart speaker expected as Apple kicks off conference

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The trend-setting company also is putting new twists on existing products as it delves deeper into virtual reality and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.

To be clear, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Snap have all been busy in both AI and AR. It's not clear whether Apple will turn a profit on the device when it officially hits the market later this year. The protection is similar to what Google Home and Amazon's Echo speakers already offer. In USA Today's own testing, Google Assistant provided a better experience than Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri.

The rumors that WWDC 17 would prove to be as much about hardware as software were well-founded as Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the "one last thing" that the keynote is notorious for.

Apple, unlike Amazon or Google, is more interested in selling hardware than in using its devices to attract users for its services. It's a new Siri-powered smart assistant that Apple says will "reinvent home music". The US, the United Kingdom and Australia go first in December. Amazon's Echo assistants are built with Alexa and have made significant inroads among home users as Alexa can do everything from playing music to ordering Amazon products. The features are part of the Mac software update this fall, to be called High Sierra. 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.

HomePod capped a keynote presentation that included updates to Apple's iPad and Mac laptop lines, and upgraded operating software enabling augmented reality for iPhones and iPads. HomePod will integrate with your other Apple devices through iCloud to fetch appointments and reminders as well.

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The Music application on the Apple Watch has received a new interface as well. "It's the biggest brains ever in a speaker", said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller. Playlist management is easy, and you can add all your favorite services such as Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, Amazon Music, and even Apple Music. That's especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more "pervasive" way that's less dependent on smartphones, he said. Like other smart speakers, the HomePod has an array of six microphones that are used not just to listen for someone's voice, but also to map a room's acoustic properties, and tailor the output from the speakers accordingly.

But for a company that doesn't want your data - to make Siri better, it has increasingly been asking for it. Apple contends that it still doesn't want to see your information. The manufacturing duties have apparently been handled by the same company that makes the iPhone 7's AirPods, with the devices being tested by Apple employees in secret.

The tech giant announced the updated iMacs would have new, faster processors as well as "43% brighter" displays.

The new iPad Pro is displayed during the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference.

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