Apple's $349 HomePod AI Smart Speaker Launches February 9th

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It hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for Apple's HomePod AI smart speaker, but it appears that calmer waters lie ahead. Apple announced today that the HomePod will be available in stores beginning February 9th. The HomePod was originally supposed to launch in December 2017, but Apple couldn't meet that original deadline.

“We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers," said Apple in a mid-November statement. "We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”

Customers will have their first crack at preordering a HomePod on Friday, January 26th, with initial sales limited to the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Apple says that the HomePod will be available for customers in France and Germany starting in the spring.

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The HomePod was first announced at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in 2017, and a firmware leak for the smart speaker is what led to many details about the flagship iPhone X smartphone being leaked prior to its official announcement last fall. The speaker is powered by Apple's A8 SoC, and features an array of six microphones to help pick up your voice when you yell out the "Hey, Siri" command.

Other features on tap for the HomePod include real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, echo cancellation and all of the "smart" capabilities available to the Siri digital assistant. That means that you can gain access to weather and traffic information, or call up a song via Apple Music, or advance through your weekly calendar using just the sound of your voice.

Apple is placing a huge emphasis on the audio aspect of the $349 HomePod, so we wouldn't be surprised if your music listening experience is much more enjoyable than what you'd find on a garden variety Amazon Echo Plus, Echo Dot or Google Home. However, those devices are much cheaper, with the Amazon Echo Dot currently retailing for $50.

But the question remains, in the AI smart speaker battle where Amazon clearly has an early lead, are people more interested in cheap and easy access to information and control of their smart devices, or do they care about high-fidelity audio? We'd side with the former, but Apple could prove us wrong...