Apple unveils 'HomePod' connected speaker at WWDC

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The HomePod marks a fightback against Amazon's Echo, the voice-controlled Wi-Fi speaker that has been a surprise hit and put rivals such as Apple and Google on the back foot.

The HomePod will support Apple's home automation system HomeKit and Apple Music.

Just as Siri does on other devices, on the HomePod it can talk about topics ranging from sports, serve up news, or control smart home devices.

Since the launch of Amazon's Echo a year ago and Google Home in March, both of which have been popular with consumers, Apple had been widely expected to enter the market. "It's the biggest brains ever in a speaker", said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller.

The smart speaker works by talking to an updated Siri that better understands music-related requests, Apple said during its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California.

The HomePod, to be launched later this year, has six microphones built into it and is powered by Apple's smart assistant Siri.

HomePod is around seven inches high and features a 7-tweeter array with beam-forming tweeters - each with its own driver. "Spatial awareness" sensors allow the HomePod to estimate how best to modify audio levels to maximise effect in any given room. For example, you can say "Hey Siri, who's the drummer in this?" Rather than exclusively competing with products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, Apple is positioning HomePod as a hybrid product that does more. It will cost $349 and will ship in the US, UK and Australia from December.

Amazon has dominated the connected speakers category since 2014 when it introduced its first Echo, which responds to voice commands and allows users to order goods and control connected appliances.

The HomePod measures in at 7in tall, and Apple has defended its bin-like design by talking up its "seamless 3D mesh fabric" as having acoustic properties.

It can also be used via Siri for messages, news, sport or weather. It can also so this when you're away from the house by using the Home app on an iPhone or iPad. It would mark an effort by Apple to catch up with Amazon and Google. The speaker's release takes advantage of improvements to Apple Music, which encourages social engagement (through updates of what friends are listening to), and employs insights gained from machine learning, like your favourite songs.