SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – Apple Inc on Monday introduced the HomePod speaker to compete with Amazon.com Inc’s Alexa assistant and Echo devices for users who prefer voice-operated systems for shopping, planning and other tasks.
The hardware debut, a rarity at the annual developers conference that traditionally features software and only minor hardware updates, came as analysts and investors watch for signs of the world’s largest publicly traded company’s next blockbuster product a decade after the introduction of the iPhone.
Apple’s voice-controlled Siri assistant will be integrated into the $349 speaker, and will make music recommendations that pair with the company’s Apple Music service, send text messages, check news and sports scores and control home gadgets like lightbulbs and thermostats.
Apple will begin shipping the HomePod to the United States, Britain and Australia in December.
The Cupertino, California-based company said Siri, which also competes with Alphabet Inc’s <GOOGL.O> Google Assistant, will also now be able to create appointments on an iPhone after an appointment is booked on a Mac, for example, marking the first time that privacy-conscious Apple has let the assistant work across devices.
Apple also offered some hints about new capabilities in the next iPhone, including so-called augmented reality, in which digital information is overlaid on real-world images.
New indoor maps of areas like malls and airports indicated that Apple might be laying groundwork to display information over images of those places in the future.
The company rolled out new tools for developers to create augmented reality applications for iPhones and iPads. To show the tools off, Apple invited Wingnut AR, the company formed by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, on stage.
Taking direct aim at services like those provided by PayPal Holdings Inc, Apple also debuted peer-to-peer payments for Apple Pay in which users will be able to send money through the Messages app on iPhones. That money can immediately be used in retail stores that take Apple Pay or can be moved to a bank account.
Apple also unveiled a key content deal when Chief Executive Tim Cook said that Amazon Prime Video, long absent from the Apple TV product, would come to Apple devices such as the TV, iPhones and iPad later this year.
(Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Bill Rigby)