Apple unveils an Amazon Echo competitor

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HomePod includes Siri voice integration and will function as a "home assistant," according to Schiller. (Image Credit: Apple via CNN)

Apple is officially jumping into the home speaker market.

It unveiled HomePod, a new 7-inch tall speaker for playing music, checking the news and controlling other connected devices in the home.

The device was previewed on stage Monday at WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference in San Jose. The device is covered in black or white mesh and looks like the top of a microphone. Inside there are 7 tweeters, six microphones and an A8 chip — the same chip inside the iPhone.

The HomePod will go on sale later this year and costs $349.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing, said on stage that the product has been in the works for “years.” But the product seems directly inspired by existing smart speakers from Amazon and Google. Schiller said devices like the Amazon Echo have poor sound quality, and wifi speakers like Sonos don’t have interactive voice assistants.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, CEO Tim Cook addressed the question of whether Apple was late to the market.

“For us, it’s not about being first. It’s about being the best and giving the user an experience that delights them every time. We don’t let that impatience result in shipping something that is just not great.”

HomePod includes Siri voice integration and will function as a “home assistant,” according to Schiller. But Apple was careful to frame it as a product focused on music first — potentially differentiating it from the Echo and Home. It has “spatial awareness” to detect where it’s located a room and adjust the sound accordingly.