Siri in a speaker, and more from Apple

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As ever, this year’s WWDC was all about software, with a layer of hardware as the icing on the cake

Another year, another WWDC, the conference Apple puts up for its developers worldwide. This time, it was held in San Jose, California and even saw Michelle Obama as an attendee, which right now is probably more high profile than if the current First Lady were there.

The event kicks off with a two-hour presentation as keenly watched by the media and Apple fans as by the developers for whom it was meant because of the number of announcements and previews. As ever, it was all about software, with a layer of hardware as the icing on the cake. At the end of the always confident presentation from Apple executives, all of them ‘so excited’ to demonstrate one thing or another, if you look back and ask yourself what was the innovation or what was outright game changing, you might find yourself a little stumped for an answer. All the same, as one Apple observer said on social media — it’s all very boring and exciting at the same time.

Among the specs refreshes to MacBooks and a powerhouse of an iMac and upgrades all round to all platforms – iOS, MacOS, WatchOS and TVOS and even the App Store – the anticipated Siri-in-a-speaker arrived at the tail end, just when everyone was beginning to wonder whether the rumour mongering had gone all wrong this time.

The HomePod

Now it’s no secret that the Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa have raced past Siri in their recognition and accurate understanding of speech and natural language and are causing users to speak rather than type. The Google Assistant has even been so audacious as to make its way to the iPhone! Siri, which actually came early to the game, now has a bit of catching up to do. And so, enter the HomePod, a little seven-inch barrel of a speaker, which is packed with seven tweeters each with its own driver that push the sound out from the bottom out. It has a four-inch upward facing woofer. All of this is controlled by an Apple A8 chip.

As Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing at Apple presented the HomePod, it became clear that the company was going at it music-first. The HomePod has Siri built-in but the focus has first of all been to make it sound good — several of them are expected to be in any one home and they are supposed to ‘rock the house’ with good sound.

The HomePod has spatial awareness and makes the best of the room it’s placed in. You can talk to the pod to ask it to play something new, or ask who’s doing the drums on a track, etc. It is also a home virtual assistant and can talk to compatible devices to control them.

For now, the HomePod is not coming to India – at least not this year – so you’ll need to get it from the US for $349 if you really want one of these gadgets that are to be a sort of iPod for the whole home.

Feature filled OS

Apple previewed its upcoming iOS 11 with lots of new features that admittedly make it a more evolved and mature platform, but one can’t help thinking that some of those have been available elsewhere all this time.

That includes multitasking with split views and finally, drag and drop – executed rather smartly – and even a Files app, which will be a place to access all data such as documents. Again, Windows users will wonder what the fuss is about, but those who have been using devices like the iPad Pro in lieu of a notebook will welcome these changes and care little that they exist on other platforms. iOS 11 is only available in a beta form for developers right now and users will have to wait.

We haven’t heard much linking Apple to Augmented Reality, which became a big thing after Pokemon Go demonstrated the technology could work in real life, but at WWDC, they announced an ARKit, which would allow developers to create AR apps for use on the iPhone. Google already is working on AR as part of its Project Tango but hasn’t made any major leap yet.

Apple, however, said AR plus the company’s devices would be the ‘largest AR platform in the world’.

The Cupertino giant also talked AI, the biggest preoccupation of tech companies this year, though it preferred the term Machine Learning. Here, Apple has a lot of catching up to do with Google and others who have already started using the technology in a multitude of ways.

Not a word on the upcoming anniversary iPhone 8, of course, but that’s not in the least surprising. That project will remain as secret as it can for some months yet,

Published on June 07, 2017

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