Apple reveals a smart speaker, new iPad and iMac video

 

Apple has unveiled a smart home speaker along with a new iPad and iMac computer at an event in California. 

Chief executive Tim Cook made the HomePod announcement at the end of his keynote address to 5300 hyped-up developers and scores of international media at the tech giant's annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) conference in San Jose.

The tech giant also shared scores of software updates and new features including iOS 11 for iPhones and iPads which is due for release later this year.

In true Apple style, WWDC was carefully stage-managed for maximum effect. Streets were closed off in the Silicon Valley city and queues started forming hours before the presentation.

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Presenters encouraged whoops from the crowd and often stopped to acknowledge applause. The obligatory cute children and pets also featured as a raft of (mainly male) Apple executives and partners appeared. Awe over Apple's brilliance was high on the agenda during the two-hour event. 

In line with pre-WWDC rumours, the Siri-powered HomePod speaker was the main product to be launched, though Kiwis will have to wait until next year to buy it.

It will be released in the United States, the UK, and Australia later this year, priced at US$349 but no New Zealand release dates or prices were given.

 

Apple spent a lot of time focusing on its music capabilities - especially the quality of its sound - but it will also be able to answer ​Siri-type things, like checking news and weather updates, send texts and be able to control home gadgets like heating and lighting if used with Apple's Home app.

HomePod is aimed to compete with Amazon's Alexa and Google Home for people who like to use voice-operated systems on their gadgets.

Apple's HomePod will hopefully be available in New Zealand next year.
Reuters

Apple's HomePod will hopefully be available in New Zealand next year.

Two units - white and black - were displayed in a media room but it was a show-and-not-tell with no demonstrations given. Delegates were able to be more hands-on with some of the other new hardware options.

These included a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro which is available to order in New Zealand with prices starting at $1099 for the 64GB model. 

The new iPad is large enough for a full on-screen keyboard and the top model will have 512GB of storage. 

 

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A new iMac Pro desktop computer targeted at professionals was also announced but will not be available until December. Promises were made that it will go faster and look better with improved photo editing and file management options.

The main improvements touted for iOS 11 were a new control centre and updates to Siri. It will also allow phone-to-phone payments in Messages using ApplePay. People can then use the money in shops that accept ApplePay or transfer it to their own bank accounts.

The revamped control centre will group all the controls such as flight mode, music controls and the flashlight in one screen for easier selection.

Siri updates will allow the virtual assistant to work across a customer's different devices so, for example, an appointment made on a phone will be replicated on an iPad. 

And a new "do not disturb while driving" feature was promoted as a pending boost to road safety, as was the ability to see speed limits when using the Maps app.

Apple Macs will also get an operating system upgrade with Sierra due to be replaced by High Sierra which "elevates" user experience (hence the name) by allowing them to, among other things, interact with some third-apps and block video autoplay in the Safari web browser.

Apple is also introducing a new platform for developers to help them bring augmented reality (AR) app experiences to iPhone and iPad. 

AR is where New Zealand featured, with creative director Alasdair Coull from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh's year-old augmented reality division, WingNutAR, appearing on stage. 

He shared the unit's first example of work with a demo featuring a science-fiction based aerial attack at a remote space outpost.

Jackson wasn't in San Jose (he's currently producing WingNut's latest feature film, Mortal Engines in Wellington) but he said, in a statement, that the new technology had endless creative potential.

"Augmented Reality allows story-tellers to generate digital creations that appear in the real world."

Coull said WingNut AR's first commercial content would be in the app store by late 2017.

Apple TV got a look in at WWDC with Cook saying Amazon Prime Video would be available on Apple TV, iPhones and iPads from later this year.

And AppleWatch is in line for some upgrades, one of which will see it share information and data with some gym machines. 

Ten years on from the launch of Apple's first iPhone, no announcements were made about the next release. 

But some commentators speculated that the next iPhone may include AR, with the idea driven by comments that Apple would upgrade its map option to include shopping centres and airports in some cities. With AR, event more information could be overlayed.

WWDC runs all week for the developers with the big drawcard a speech from former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Ellen Read attended WWDC courtesy of Apple.

WHAT WAS ANNOUNCED

New HomePod smart speaker
No NZ availability or pricing

New 10.5-inch iPad Pro
Available to order now from $1099

New iMac Pro
Due in December. No NZ pricing available.

Updated laptops
Available now from $2199

Updated iMacs
Available now from $2199

Mac operating system
High Sierra is free and is due later this year

Mobile operating system
iOS 11 will be available for iPhones and iPads later this year.

 - Stuff

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