Look out Alexa: Apple announces 'HomePod,' a smart home audio speaker


Tapping Apple's (AAPL) Siri digital assistant, such a speaker is expected to serve as a butler as well as an outlet for listening to music.

The new iMacs aren't messing around. It has been tested by some Apple employees in their homes for upwards of a year, according to people familiar with the matter. Shipments of intelligent home speakers surged almost 600 percent year-over-year to 4.2 million units in the fourth quarter, with Amazon taking about 88 percent share and Google 10 percent, according to consultant Strategy Analytics. Beats Electronics was also working on a Wifi-equipped speaker when it was acquired by Apple in 2014, but Apple made a decision to kill the project before it was publicly announced.

Available in December, it won't be cheap-$349-but Apple boasts that it will have better audio than its competition.

Apple appears poised to unveil a voice-activated, internet-connected speaker that would create a new digital pipeline into people's homes. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for development virtual-reality "experiences".

Apple is expected to announce plans this week to make its Siri voice assistant work with a larger variety of apps, but initial changes were expected to add just a small number of capabilities.

Apple is also updating the operating software for its Apple Watch, including new watch faces, more personalized alerts that use machine learning to tailor information to you based on your routines and tastes.

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But Apple is late to the game on VR. Apple officials talked a lot about support for virtual reality, something it hasn't spoken that much about before.

New features coming to iPhones and iPads include messages that sync to Apple servers in the cloud. It will not block the ads themselves, though.

Apple Pay: The company also introduced a person-to-person payment feature to Apple Pay. Apple also laid some groundwork for augmented reality, the projection of digital features onto real-world surroundings, by giving app developers tools for incorporating AR into their products. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.

HomePod uses the company's A8 chip, which Apple also uses for its mobile devices.

Apple is introducing an iPad Pro in a new size in an attempt to revive interest in its once hot-selling line of tablets.

The company is also reportedly working on a home speaker powered by Siri that could be unveiled during the conference, which would be a rarity for an event that traditionally features software and minor updates to hardware such as its Mac laptops. Apple is also doubling the storage space on these models, and the larger model will have a version with 512 GB of storage.