Apple kicks off event with virtual reality, browser privacy

An early glimpse at updates to iPhone and Mac software has become a tradition at Apple's annual conference for app developers, which begins Monday in San Jose, California.

Apple will compete with Google Home and Amazon Echo later this year with a new speaker called HomePod.

Its biggest selling point comes from its "Spatial Awareness" feature, technology that allows the device to automatically detect the space around it, adjusting the audio to best match its surroundings. It will cost $349 and will ship in the US, UK and Australia from December. See photos of it ahead.

It'll be a while before the HomePod official goes on sale, but right now it has one clear edge over the competition: it's just a killer speaker.

With sleek branding, favored integrations with Apple's other products and the company's retail footprint, HomePod could mature into a true contender if Siri can get smarter. The top of the HomePod also lights up to display an LED waveform while you're talking to it, similar to the way Siri interactions animate on other Apple devices.

It's nearly impossible to imagine that Apple overlooked the resemblance between this view of the HomePod and the murderous AI from Stanley Kubrick's space opera, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, also announced that Apple is working with Valve Corp.to bring the Steam VR SDK to Metal, and the company is also adding support for Unity and Unreal Engine, the two most popular game engines for creating virtual reality content. Just 7 inches tall, the HomePod is the first major Apple hardware product that has been unveiled since the Apple Watch. Linn Huang, a research director at IDC, said he believes one thing Apple could do to entice customers would be to put edge-to-edge glass on the iPad Pro, which would distinguish the more powerful iPad Pro from the original iPad.

As its name suggests, the HomePod appears meant to be a music-focused complement to its legacy iPod music player and AirPod wireless headphones.

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The speaker will sell for about $350 in December in the US, United Kingdom and Australia. Apple's main competitors in this area would be Amazon Echo and Google Home, with Amazon now leading the pack by a wide margin.

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If Apple unveils a rival to internet-connected speakers from Amazon and Google, it wouldn't be the first time that Apple hops on the bandwagon of a technology product popularized by a competitor.

Augmented reality is a mixture of live images and virtual animations and objects placed over them.

- New Macs. Hand-in-hand with the usual software updates, rumour has it we can expect new Mac laptops, too - specifically, upgraded versions of its existing MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.

For photos, Apple is turning to a "high efficiency" format to replace the widely used JPEG standard.

This works thanks to the "smart home hub" features, which work for all HomeKit-compatible devices.