Apple Unveils HomePod Speaker, 10.5-inch iPad, Other Items at WWDC

Apple had to get back into the voice-enabled home market sooner or later, because it had fallen behind Amazon and Google. HomePod may fill that requirement.

Apple.WWDC.2017

Apple's been fairly quiet lately when it comes to the news cycle, unless you count CEO Tim Cook's recent admonishment of the POTUS--along with just about every other Silicon Valley company--for pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.

However, June 5--Day 1 of the five-day WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) 2017--made up for the sound of crickets. There was a cache of news from the San Jose Convention Center conference, including the introduction of a new, 10.5-inch iPad Pro; a new MacOs, dubbed High Sierra; a HomePod speaker that will compete with Amazone Echo and Google Home; new iMac desktop PCs; and others.

Here's a rundown of the bigger news items that Apple enthusiasts will be talking about for the next year:

10.5-inch iPad Pro

Apple's high-end iPad now becomes available in three sizes, with the largest one, the 10.5-inch model introduced from the stage June 5. It features a 12-megapixel camera--like that on the iPhone 7--and a 7MP selfie cam. It supports USB 3.0, and Apple claims it can go 10 hours before needing a power infusion.

iPad Pro has a new feature called ProMotion that makes the Apple Pencil quicker--latency down to 20 milliseconds, not that anybody's actually clocking this.

The big iPad Pro can be ordered now and will begin shipping next week. It starts at $649 with a 64GB storage configuration.

HomePod Smart Speaker

Apple had to get back into the voice-enabled home market sooner or later, because it had fallen behind Amazon and Google. Following in the Apple "pod" and "pad" naming tradition, HomePod uses Siri's machine intelligence for awareness in order to judge the size of the room and decide on music volumes all by itself. It also has a feature called Musicologist that connects with Apple Music to stream music users ask the speaker's Siri to play.

Siri's music IQ must be pretty good, because users can ask more sophisticated music-related questions, such as  "Who composed this song?" or "What album came out on this day 20 years ago?"

HomePod and its Siri will be available in black or white. Apple plans to ship it in December--first to customers in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The company said it will ship it to more international markets in 2018.

HomePod, at $349, sells for a lot more than Amazon's ($180 to $220) or Google's ($109 to $129) home talker.

iMac, MacBook

Apple updates its iMac desktops pretty much each year, improving its graphics power train, its Retina displays and others such as USB-C ports. This year virtual reality is a factor; the new iMacs will also support graphics for VR content creation.

There's also new iMac Pro as well, which features a 5K display; an 8-core Xeon processor (upgradable up to 18-cores); up to a whopping 4TB of solid-state disk storage; built-in 10GB Ethernet; up to 128GB memory; and four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The 2017 iMacs pricing starts at $1,099 for the 21.5-inch display model and $1,299 for the 4K unit. On the portable side, MacBooks are also being upgraded. New MacBook Pros start at $1,299; the iMac Pro starts at $4,999; Apple says they both will ship in December.

iOS 11 Gets More Social; Siri Gets More Articulate

The new iOS update of iOS includes an update to Siri that features improved speech, such as the ability to help translate sentences into different languages. iOS 11 also has become more cognitive, maintaining better on-device remembrances of what you do on your iPhone or iPad. iMessages now will remain in the iCloud for better record-keeping.

Users also can also pay for products and services and receive payments from contacts through iMessage.

The forward camera has been improved with better low-light performance. Apple has added the ability to edit Live Photos so users can change the best still image or trim a video. iOS also includes a new control center, which relies on 3D Touch and condenses most controls on the lower half of the screen.

The App Store has been redesigned for better navigation with a How To section for tips on how to use various apps.

Developers Can Make More Immersive Apps with ARKit

Apple has introduced something called an ARKit to enable developers build augmented reality apps for the iPhone. The kit can help find planes, track motion and estimate scale and ambient lighting. Popular apps, such as Pokémon Go and SnapChat, can use ARKit for improved real-time renders.

MacOS Moves to High Sierra

The next version of macOS, to be called High Sierra, will come with updates to the Safari browser that help block site trackers and automatic-playing video and audio ads. Apple also added new photo-editing tools, such as Curves. Filtering for faces and other images has been improved.

High Sierra features an updated file management system that speeds up directory cloning with native encryption. On the graphics side, there's support for virtual reality, an updated version of Metal and a Metal 2 developer kit.

Apple WWDC continues through June 9.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...