Apple’s $349 HomePod smart speaker set for release this February

Apple has finally confirmed a release date for its first ever smart speaker, the HomePod. The $349 speaker will hit the shelves on February 9th, with pre-orders opening on January 26th in the US, UK, and Australia.

Announced at the Cupertino giant’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in 2017, the 7-inch tall HomePod is Apple’s answer to the nascent smart speaker market currently dominated by Amazon and Google.

Much like the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices from its rivals, the HomePod is both a wireless speaker and a multi-functional smart home hub powered by an always-on voice assistant. Here, the popular iPhone and iPad assistant Siri stands in for Alexa and Google Assistant.

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As you might expect, you’ll be able to stream songs (if you have an Apple Music subscription), check the news, weather, set alarms and reminders, and control selected apps via a few simple voice commands.

The six-microphone array inside the HomePod also means it’ll hear your voice even when the volume is at max, Apple says.

Yet, as noted by The Verge, Apple’s approach to the rapidly growing sector differs greatly from its most commonly-cited competitors.

Amazon Echo and Google Home offer a relatively affordable gateway to the smart home experience, but with the HomePod, Apple is gunning for the premium, audiophile market, with a hardware and software setup aiming to blow similarly-styled products from the likes of Sonos out of the water.

Ever since its initial announcement, Apple has talked up the HomePod’s elite audio quality. It says this has been achieved through years of research into audio technology, resulting in a “magical new music experience” powered by a built-in A8 processor and delivered by a seven-tweeter speaker array combined with a vertical-facing subwoofer.

Apple also noted in a press release that multi-room support for simultaneous music playback across multiple HomePod speakers will be added later this year as part of a free update.

The HomePod will be available in Space Gray and White at launch. In the US, you’ll be able to pick up a HomePod at your local Apple Store, or selected Authorized Resellers such as Best Buy.

For consumers in the UK and Australia, the HomePod is priced at £319 and A$499, respectively. Apple has also confirmed that the HomePod will launch in France and Germany “this spring”.

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