Apple launches HomePod voice speaker, taking on Google, Amazon

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A prototype Apple HomePod is seen during the annual Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, U.S. June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

After missing the critical holiday shopping season, Apple Inc. has jumped into the voice speaker wars with the HomePod smart speaker, a device that will use its Siri voice assistant and compete against offerings from Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

Apple on Tuesday said it will start taking online orders for its HomePod smart speaker on Friday in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, just over a month later than initially planned.

The $349 voice-controlled speaker, introduced in June and originally scheduled for a December release, can make music suggestions and adjust home temperatures. The speaker also will be able to send messages and play news updates from National Public Radio and CNN, Apple said in a release.

Analysts have debated the impact of the shipping delay on the HomePod’s eventual success. Apple has forecast between $84 billion and $87 billion in revenue for the holiday – mostly driven by sales of its $999 iPhone X – so it is unlikely that missing a few weeks of sales of the HomePod will affect its financial results, Bob O’Donnell, founder of Technalysis Research, told Reuters in December.

The bigger danger for Apple, analysts said, is that consumers bought a rival speaker over the holiday season and have no immediate need for Apple’s new product. Amazon and Google cut prices on their entry-level speakers over the holiday season in an aggressive push for market share, analysts said.

Apple is working to keep its Siri voice assistant relevant in the face of competition from Amazon’s Alexa and Alphabet’s Google Assistant, both of which are featured on smart speakers from those companies.

Apple also is counting on HomePod to boost subscriptions to Apple Music and block the rise of rival Spotify. The smart speakers from Google and Amazon let users give voice commands to play Spotify but Apple Music does not work on the rival devices.

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