Apple’s Latest Tech The HomePod Smart Speaker With Siri Coming Sooner

Apple on Monday revealed the HomePod smart speaker as a new way to take over your house.

The highly anticipated device, which is powered by Apple's Siri digital assistant, comes amid a wave of new attention for smart speakers, with Google, Microsoft, HP, Lenovo and Samsung all jumping into the mix. All these tech titans are trying to catch up to Amazon, which essentially invented the smart speaker category with its Echo device in late 2014. Propellerads

"Just like with portable music, we want to reinvent home music," Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference.

Many tech leaders now see the home as a major new battleground for them to gain new users and sell more electronics, as they look to add more smarts and automation into people's lights, sprinkler systems and appliances. The attention for smart speakers stems from a new impression that these devices -- not phones -- will become the hubs that power the future smart home.

Apple already tried to make its iPhone a smart-home hub, using Siri and its HomeKit software, so the speaker offers a bit of an admission that its strategy didn't pan out.

The stakes are high for the HomePod, which represents the company's first new category of hardware since the Apple Watch. Failure to develop a popular smart speaker could ice the major tech company from a potentially critical new area of computer-human interaction. Smart speakers are expected to surge in popularity, with global sales reaching 15 million units by 2020, up from just 1.8 million last year, according to Strategy Analytics.

These voice-activated, stationary speakers can be used, typically in a kitchen or living room, to play music, order a pizza, dim the lights or even tell a knock-knock joke, all without having to look at a screen or use your hands. The devices are powered by artificially intelligent digital assistants, which can be updated regularly with new functions using automatic software updates.

Apple is late to the game. Amazon's Echo, using its digital assistant Alexa, has a two-year head start, with Amazon already introducing a whole range of Echo devices, partnering with dozens of smart-home device makers and selling millions of speakers. Google started selling its competing Google Home, powered by Google Assistant, in November.

However, it would be foolish to count Apple out in any tech race, since the company has an intensely loyal user base and often shows up late to tech trends only to outfox the incumbent competition with more polished products. Apple's ability to smoothly integrate new hardware with its existing electronics should give its users additional incentive to jump ship to the new device, even if they already own an Echo or Home.

A big question mark for the new speaker, though, is whether Siri is good enough to power its own dedicated device. Siri was introduced as a feature in the iPhone 4S in 2011, three years before Amazon introduced Alexa and the Echo. However, Siri has been slow to improve its voice-recognition technology and set of responses, especially compared with the more capable Alexa and Google Assistant. A smart speaker utilizing an underachieving voice assistant could damper interest in the product.