Apple Upgrades Siri in iOS 11, Releases HomePod

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Apple this week at its WWDC event announced that as part of its iOS11 release, its Siri voice assistant is getting a makeover that will give it clearer, more human-sounding voices in both female and male versions, along with some new skills to improve its performance.

Siri, which Apple says is used monthly on more than 375 million devices, will offer a new translation feature that will allow users to ask it how to say English phrases in Chinese, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

Siri will also be able to ask and respond to follow-up questions, meaning the assistant will be able to handle more complex, multi-tiered interactions. Other innovations include greater support for third-party apps, such as integrations with Evernote and WeChat, and on-device machine learning that will allow Siri learn user preferences so it can recommend news stories, for example.

Siri will also find a home in the new Apple HomePod, a wireless speaker for the home similar to Amazon's Echo and Google Home.

HomePod is designed for voice control. When, for example, users say, "Hey Siri, I like this song," HomePod and Apple Music together will learn preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists, and these music tastes are shared across devices. Siri can also handle advanced searches within the music library, so users can ask questions like "Hey Siri, who's the drummer in this?" or create shared Up Next queues with everyone in the home.

As a home assistant, HomePod allows users to send messages, get updates on news, sports and weather, or control smart home devices by simply talking to Siri. HomePod also provides remote access and home automations through the Home app on iPhone or iPad.

A six-microphone array with advanced echo cancellation enables Siri to understand people whether they are near the device or standing across the room, even while loud music is playing. Siri waveform appears on the top of the device to indicate when Siri is engaged.

The HomePod also offers voice-based security. Oonly after "Hey Siri" is recognized locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted, and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier.

"HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence, and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a beautiful speaker that is less than 7 inches tall, can rock most any room with distortion-free music, and be a helpful assistant around your home," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, in a statement.

HomePod will be available for $349 in white and space gray starting in December. It will be compatible with iPhone 5s and later, running iOS 11.

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