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Apple WWDC 2017: Expect hardware updates, not just software

The Latest: Apple to showcase new features for its gadgets

A prototype of Apple's new HomePod is displayed during the 2017 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) at the San Jose Convention Center on June 5, 2017 in San Jose, California.

Apple is playing catch-up. That makes it a bit taller than the portly Google Home, and slightly shorter than canister-shaped Amazon Echo.

The HomePod is a 6.8-inch speaker driven by an Apple A8 SoC to handle echo cancellation and optimize sound for a given space. This partially begins to put the now-aging Apple TV more on par with Roku and, of course, Amazon Fire TV.

Apple says Amazon will be making an app for its video service for the Apple TV device this year, filling one of the major gaps on Apple's streaming TV device. He bragged about the sophisticated hardware in the device.

The array of seven tweeters form a narrow beam that delivers sounds from all angles. Compared with Google and Amazon, HomeKit device support is extremely limited. "While neither speaker is outright terrible, I wouldn't buy either of them if sound quality was my primary aim", CNet wrote last November.

Amazon and Google's smart speakers play a supporting role in the companies' larger business strategies. Although the format is not exclusive to Apple, it's not yet clear how well the photos will work with non-Apple software and devices, which mostly use JPEG.

But as usual, Apple has remained mum on what it will announce.

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In effect, it can use this mass of crowdsources data to spot trends that lets the company return common, trending queries back to users faster without compromising privacy, it says. Apple lost ground to Spotify in the early days of music streaming, and its home speaker is meant to be a booster rocket for Apple Music. Amazon also offers a $49.99 Dot speaker and the $229.99 Echo Show, which features a screen. The rapidly growing number of Alexa devices is encouraging developers to create "skills" - the smart speaker equivalent of apps - for Alexa.

In other words, you can ask it for recommendations, tell it to play specific artists/albums/playlists/genres and ask it music-related questions (who's the drummer in this song?).

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.

Apple has entered the intelligent speaker market with the announcement of its premium-priced HomePod.

If developer mindshare turns out to be as important for voice assistants as it was for smartphones and PCs, then this could be a serious disadvantage. If that doesn't happen before the speaker launches later this year, however, the two colors Apple has picked are at least subtle and non-offending.

People interact with the digital assistants on those speakers more frequently than on their phones, according to Technalysis Research of Foster City. It's both a smart speaker and powerful source of music.

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