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Apple says HomePod will go on sale Friday

[SAN FRANCISCO] Apple Inc said its HomePod smart speaker will be available for sale online Friday and hit stores on Feb 9, after being delayed from December.

The US$349, Siri-controlled device was originally announced last June and marks the iPhone maker's first foray into smart-home hardware. The speaker is designed to be a bulwark in Apple users' homes, serving as a gadget to stream Apple Music, get weather information and control such accessories as lights, door locks and curtains. It can also serve as a speakerphone for iPhone calls, Apple said Tuesday. Later this year, a software update will let users play music throughout the house with multi-room audio.

The HomePod comes in gray and white and will be available in the US, Australia and the UK, Apple said. It will arrive in France and Germany in the spring.

The device takes on Amazon. com Inc.'s popular Echo speakers, which the online retail giant said sold in the "tens of millions" last year, and Google's line of Home speakers. Last year, Amazon launched a pair of Echo speakers with a screen, a louder version of the original and a new model that more easily taps into home accessories. Google also introduced a louder Max speaker aimed at the HomePod and is planning a model with a screen, Bloomberg News has reported.

In December, Strategy Analytics said Amazon and Google combined had 92 per cent of the smart speaker market in the third quarter last year, a market that Apple intends to make a dent in over time.

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The HomePod will mark Apple's first major new hardware category since the Apple Watch launched in 2015 and fits into the company's growing ecosystem of accessories, which also includes AirPods. Apple started working on the HomePod before the first Echo was announced, Bloomberg has reported. While the HomePod likely beats much of the competition in audio quality and will appeal to people in Apple's iPhone and iPad ecosystem, it trails Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant devices' integration with third-party services.

The HomePod's tardy debut marks the second time in two years that an Apple hardware product has missed the company's self-imposed ship timeline. In 2016, the AirPods wireless headphones were delayed by about two months.

Cupertino, California-based Apple anticipates shipping 4 million HomePods in 2018, Bloomberg has reported. It will be a key product for the company this year in addition to new iPhone models and a version of the iPad with Face ID.


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