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Apple Music gets more social as HomePod speaker debuts


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As expected, there was a new milestone for Apple Music subscribers, new features for Apple’s streaming service, and a smart-speaker unveiled to boost its prospects in the home at last night’s WWDC event in San Jose.

There were some surprises though, not least the name of Apple’s new device: rather than the ‘Siri Speaker’ of pre-WWD predictions, its official name is HomePod: a direct link to the music hardware that kickstarted the resurgence of modern Apple.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Apple Music’s new milestone is 27 million subscribers, up from 20 million in December 2016. That means the rate of growth is increasing slowly, from around a million net new subs a month to around 1.16 million.

The WWDC keynote focused on evolution rather than revolution for the service itself though: Apple Music is finally getting more social, enabling subscribers to create profiles, more-easily share music with friends, and see what those friends are listening to.

There’s also a new developer toolset called MusicKit, which Apple hopes will help more apps integrate Apple Music. Nike+ Run, Shazam and podcasting app Anchor are the first three apps confirmed to use MusicKit, which can be seen as Apple’s attempt to up its API game in competition with Spotify.

We’d expect it to get plenty of use: even if the main motivating factor for developers will continue to be the hope that Apple Music integration will boost their chances of getting featured on the company’s App Store.

But then there is HomePod, which is priced more like a Sonos than an Echo: $349 when it goes on sale this December in the US, UK and Australia. The seven-inch-high speaker has been “designed to work with an Apple Music subscription”, and as expected gets its smarts from Apple’s Siri assistant.

Besides sending messages, providing news, sports and weather updates and controlling other smart-home devices, HomePod will also field a range of music voice commands: from “Hey Siri, who’s the drummer in this?” to “Hey Siri, I like this song” – a command that will feed into Apple Music recommendations.

This is very much a premium product: nearly double the price of an Amazon Echo in the US, while Google is currently selling its Home speaker there for just $109.

The company most in HomePod’s crosshairs, at least initially, does seem to be Sonos – Apple made much of the fact that it designed the HomePod’s woofer in-house, while its first demos for tech journalists last night left many cooing over the device’s sound quality.

We’ll be as interested to see how HomePod opens up to developers – and potentially even rival streaming services? – as well as seeing just how mainstream an audience it can reach.

Stuart Dredge

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