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HomePod: Apple's new product of speaker and virtual assistant arrives for Christmas

Members of the media photograph a prototype Apple HomePod during the annual Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose, Calif. on June 5, 2017. Reuters1 / 2
Members of the media photograph a prototype Apple HomePod during the annual Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Jose, Calif. on June 5, 2017. Reuters2 / 2

Since Hallmark is running Christmas movies all this week, the idea of Christmas in July is alive and well and that makes thinking about holiday shopping make perfect sense this summer month.

For those who have Apple product fans in their family, there are two products on the horizon that could make for a nice present when the holidays really arrive. Admittedly, I am a fan of Apple products. And I am looking forward to the release of the HomePod—Apple's combination of a smart home speaker and Siri, it's virtual assistant.

I've been looking for a speaker system for my music since my three-CD changer and stereo bit the dust years ago but could never pull the trigger on a purchase. Even when I had bluetooth speakers in my hand in line on a Black Friday, I was never sure if the speaker was going to really provide the sound I wanted for the price I hoped to pay. I ended up putting the speakers back and waiting. Now, I think, I'm glad I did.

Beyond the speaker ability and easy interaction with my other Apple products, HomePod allows—as does Amazon Echo and Google Home (although I've never tried the Google product to know how well it works or what might be a headache)—a way to interact with your home by using your voice.

I have an Echo Dot and find the interaction of being able to walk in your home and simply tell Alexa to turn on a light, makes it certainly feel as though life is getting closer and closer to the dreams hatched with watching the Jetsons.

Smart appliances, smart plugs and voice activation bring that home. And while it certainly isn't necessary for most people, it is undeniably convenient and fun. That's where HomePod aims to fit into the mix.

HomePod is a small wireless smart speaker just 7 inches tall and as Apple CEO Tim Cook said in June, Apple is using this new product as a way to "reinvent home music." Apple reports HomePod will combine hardware and software "to deliver the highest-fidelity sound throughout the home, no matter where it's placed."

"Place HomePod anywhere in the room, Apple stated on its website. "It automatically analyzes the acoustics, adjusts the sound based on the speaker's location, and steers the music in the optimal direction. Whether HomePod is against the wall, on a shelf, or in the middle of the room, everyone gets an immersive listening experience."

If more than one HomePod is in the home, the speakers are able to communicate with each other through AirPlay 2. And changing the tune is as simple as asking Siri to move from Pink to The Beatles. If you don't like one song, ask Siri to play a different one. Like the Echo's Alexa, the HomePod will have an LED light to let the user know when Siri is actively listening. She's voice activated with "Hey Siri." The HomePod also responds to a physical touch to play, pause or adjust the volume.

"Many tech leaders see the home as a major battleground for gaining new users and selling more electronics, and are adding more smarts into our lights, sprinkler systems and appliances. Smart speakers take on extra importance since lots of these executives now expect these devices—not phones—will become the hubs that power smart homes," CNET recently reported in a review on the HomePod.

"Smart speakers are expected to surge in popularity, with global sales reaching 15 million units by 2020, up from just 1.8 million last year, according to Strategy Analytics," CNET reported. "These voice-activated, stationary speakers can be used, typically in a kitchen or living room, to play music, order a pizza, dim the lights or even tell a knock-knock joke, all without having to look at a screen or use your hands. The devices are powered by artificially intelligent digital assistants, which can be updated regularly with new functions.

"HomePod matches many other smart speakers' offerings, including news, weather forecasts, timers and controlling connected home electronics. But Apple has put a lot of its focus on the HomePod's sound quality, citing the device's Apple-designed woofer and 'a custom array of seven beam-forming tweeters' for improved acoustics."

I'm more familiar with Twitter's tweets than a speaker's tweets and woofers, so I have to take their word on that.

And MSN recently reported Amazon is retooling its Echo to be shorter and slimmer, like stacking four Echo Dots on top of each other, with a look and better sound.

"As influential as the original Echo has been, it's not aging gracefully against smaller, sleeker and cheaper competition like Google Home," MSN reported. "... Apple's HomePod is also significantly smaller, and it packs in plenty of new technology that the Echo doesn't. At this point, it's clear that you can design a solid speaker that doesn't take up a significant amount of room."

The HomePod isn't cheap, of course. The HomePod, in white or space gray, will sell for $349. But since Christmas is still in the distance, there is time to save up for this purchase.

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