• Apple gave a sneak peek of HomePod, a speaker, to rival Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. It’s the first brand-new hardware product for Apple since the Apple Watch.
• The company also showed new iPads at its annual developer conference, which typically focuses on software instead of hardware.
• Also unveiled: a new iMac Pro, as well as upgraded iMacs and MacBooks.
• And Apple announced updates to the iOS operating system that underlies iPhones and iPads, as well as updates to the operating system for the Apple Watch and Mac computers.
Hello HomePod, Apple’s new speaker.
Amazon, with the Echo, pioneered a device that lets you play music, look up basic information and control your lighting and other home accessories. Now Apple’s answer to the Echo — the HomePod — is here, kind of. Apple showed off HomePod on Monday, and it will be available in December.
Apple had long been rumored to be working on a device meant to take on the Echo, which has become a surprise hit since Amazon released it nearly three years ago. The category is getting pretty crowded: Last year, Google released a talking home computer of its own, called Google Home, and Microsoft’s assistant, Cortana, is also making its way to home speakers.
So how will Apple compete? In a very Apple-like manner: The speaker, powered by the Siri voice assistant, looks spiffier than either Amazon’s or Google’s version — it is a seven-inch-tall canister wrapped in a shiny mesh speaker. The company also said it had prioritized the speaker’s sound, which can be lackluster on rival devices. HomePod has an array of speakers to create virtual surround sound.
“You don’t have to know what any of that is; just know that it sounds incredible,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, who added that HomePod would be priced at $349.
Although Apple appears to be trying to make up ground on Amazon and Google, the primary casualty may be Sonos. That company offers a wireless multispeaker system that allows users to listen to music throughout the home, similar to HomePod’s ability to chain together speakers.
The big question, though, is whether the intelligence inside Apple’s speaker is good for anything beyond music. Apple was early to the voice game with Siri on the iPhone, but rivals have since lapped it — their voice-command devices are faster, they know more, and they are less annoying to use. Apple promises the new Siri is better, but the improvements it showed were only minor.
New iPads debut, even as sales shrink.
Apple’s developer conference typically showcases software improvements. In a departure from that routine, Apple showed a lot of new hardware this time.
That included updated versions of the iPad, which has been declining in sales. Apple showed that it was continuing to bet on the tablets by unveiling an iPad upgrade that the company’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, said was pushing the device “further than it ever has before.”
The new version of the iPad Pro has a 10.5-inch display, 20 percent larger than the previous 9.7-inch model, and it will start at $649. Apple said the size made it perfect for displaying a virtual keyboard comparable to a full-size physical keyboard. The company also highlighted a feature called ProMotion that increases the refresh rate and makes motion smoother in video content.
After Steve Jobs introduced the original iPad in 2010, tablets exploded in popularity, but iPad sales have slumped for more than a year now. So Apple, under increasing pressure from investors to strengthen its revenue, has upgraded iPads more frequently than many of its other products. The company introduced a cheaper version of the 9.7-inch iPad, priced at $329, in March and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, compatible with an Apple stylus and keyboard, in 2015.
Some of Apple’s rivals have capitalized on the iPad’s stumbles. Amazon said recently that its tablet sales had grown substantially compared with last year. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are extremely cheap, starting at $50, and they allow for basic functions like reading e-books, streaming Netflix and listening to music.
Apple’s predicament seems to be that for existing iPad customers, their tablets are still quite capable and running strong, giving them little reason to upgrade. For new customers, the iPad may be overkill for basic tasks, especially if you can just pay $50 for a media tablet from Amazon.
Apple introduces a powerful new iMac Pro.
One of Apple’s splashiest hardware debuts was a brand new iMac Pro that will support up to 18 core processors and include a graphic chipset called Radeon Vega. Translation: It is Apple’s all-in-one desktop on steroids.
“It’s going to be the most powerful Mac we’ve ever made,” said John Ternus, Apple’s vice president for hardware engineering.
The new iMac Pro may help compensate for Apple’s previous professional desktop, the Mac Pro, which was widely panned by critics and customers. The iMac Pro will start at $5,000 and ship in December.
With this device, Apple is broadly catering to members of the professional community, like filmmakers and hard-core coders. For years, these users have felt left behind as Apple has focused on consumer-oriented products like the iPhone, shifting away from high-performance equipment for professionals.
The company also announced upgrades of its 27-inch and 21.5-inch iMacs, its desktop computers, which will start at $1,099, with additional models at $1,299 and $1,799. And Apple lowered some prices for its MacBooks and said the MacBook Air, its entry-level lightweight laptop, would get a speed increase. The 21.5-inch model with 4K high resolution will start at about $1,300, with a new 13-inch MacBook Pro starting at $1,300.
Last year was rough for the Mac. Fans of the MacBook Pro waited for Apple to unveil a major upgrade after the laptop had remained relatively unchanged for about four years. But when Apple introduced a new MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar, a virtual touch strip embedded into its keyboard, customers were divided. Some fans concluded that the Mac was now in the back seat because Apple was prioritizing the iPhone, the iPad and the Apple Watch.
Apple updates iOS, MacOS and WatchOS.
Every year, Apple updates the underlying operating systems that power its devices. The changes are geeky — remember, they are aimed at software developers — but they eventually trickle down to how we use iPhones, Macs and Apple Watches.
The most important update was to iOS, the operating system that underpins Apple’s biggest seller, iPhones, as well as iPads. Apple introduced iOS 11, with improved camera software; upgrades for Siri; an expansion of its mobile payment system, Apple Pay; and a new version of Apple Maps, with indoor mapping and features to prevent distracted driving.
Because the show is about giving new tools to developers, Apple also focused on emerging technologies. Specifically, Apple highlighted augmented reality, a way for people to view and digitally manipulate the physical world around them through the lens of their smartphone cameras.
The iPhone already supports augmented reality with games like Pokémon Go. On Monday, Apple said it was offering a new tool kit for bringing advanced augmented reality applications to the iPhone and the iPad. Mr. Cook has spoken several times of Apple‘s interest in augmented reality, hinting that the company could be developing an augmented reality headset.
Apple demonstrated changes to the operating system for the Apple Watch including a new watch face that uses Siri to suggest directions, show calendar items and generally predict what you will want to see. The most substantive changes focused on fitness, including the ability to track new types of high-intensity workouts.
Apple also unveiled a new operating system for its Mac computers, called High Sierra. The company made privacy a key selling point with this and said the next version of its Safari web browser would block videos that automatically start playing and stop advertising trackers. While users will probably welcome those changes, the development was another blow to web publishers, who rely on ads that Apple will now block. Apple added optional ad blocking to the iPhone and the iPad last year.