HomePod raises the bar for smart speakers

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One of the other expected announcements today was that of a "Siri Speaker". It happened, but with a totally different name than we expected -- HomePod (available in December in the US, Australia, and UK for $349). The crowd didn't exactly seem enthralled with the name, but the device is quite impressive and as Apple noted, it's meant to redefine music in the home the same way that the iPod redefined portable music.

Apple mentioned that today there are good speakers -- let's say Sonos, for example -- that work throughout the home, but they're not smart. Likewise, there are smart speakers like Amazon Echo, but they have substandard sound. HomePod is designed to bridge the gap by bringing premium speaker sound to the home as well as using Siri to browse and select music from Apple Music, control the home through HomeKit, and answer questions.

The device is just under 7 inches tall and looks like a piece of furniture. It will be available in both space gray and white, and has one other great feature -- it also acts as a hub for HomeKit devices to provide remote access to home automation.

There's an upward facing 4-inch woofer and a custom array of seven beam-forming tweeters. Each of those tweeters has its own amplifier. Powering everything is an Apple A8 chip that helps to sense each room that a speaker is in, and optimizing the music for that room. Siri "hears" your commands through a six-microphone array with advanced echo cancellation, and a Siri waveform appears on top of the HomePod when it is listening to you. 

If you've been concerned about Amazon's "always listening" Echo devices, you'll love HomePod. Only after it hears you say "Hey, Sir" will any information be sent to Apple's servers, and at that point it will be encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.