apple homepod

Apple unveils home automation device and the most expensive desktop computer ever

apple ceo tim cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook welcomes developers from 75 different countries to WWDC 2017

So the rumours were true about the home automation device. Some of the other rumours ahead of the ongoing Apple Worldwide Developers Conference were also true, but then there have been some surprises as well. 

First, the home automation device. Apple has launched what it calls HomePod – a voice assistant much like Amazon Alexa-enabled Echo and Google Home – within which Siri will live.

The question with such voice devices is always, how good are they at conversation with humans? In general, natural language processing technology is not yet able to understand human speech well enough to make such devices easy to use. 

But Apple is pushing the device more as a music player, a sort of live-in disc jockey, which you can ask to play tunes of your choice. It might sound like limiting the potential of such technology, but it’s better for a technology to perform a limited range of functions well than for it to promise the Earth and deliver fertiliser.

That’s not to say users shouldn’t or wouldn’t try and do more with HomePod, and Apple is certainly packing the little pod with enough capabilities for it to have a go. But it’s too early to say too much about that because the app developers are probably going to work right now and we’ll see what they come up with.

For now, the HomePod houses “powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library”, says Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

But the cylindrical HomePod – which, at 7 inches tall, looks like a miniature version of the Mac Pro top-of-the line desktop computer – is built on the Apple-designed A8 chip, which first appeared on the iPhone 6 and is manufactured by TSMC.

apple homepod
The new Apple HomePod, the home automation device which mostly acts like a speaker and plays music

Siri and AI

Apple appears to have prioritised building a new generation of microprocessors in anticipation of the new world of artificial intelligence, and may have embarked on a journey which could result in the company building all its own chips for use in its own devices, no longer relying on Intel and Qualcomm and others.

It doesn’t seem realistic immediately, but it’s a subject about which investment news website Fool.com speculates, and Apple’s AI chip is something our partner website EM360º reported on last week.

Apple is of course a computer hardware and software maker, so building chips is not a new activity to the company, but AI is relatively new to all companies and Apple finds itself competing in a market where first movers may have disproportionate advantages.

Moreover, a lot of AI functions will require super high speed internet connectivity and reliable transfer and processing of data, and here – for whatever reasons – Google seems to have a head start, even in the development of AI chips, having launched the Tensor Processing Unit.

But it will certainly be interesting to see what Apple does with its AI endeavours, regardless of its speed to market – something which doesn’t seem too important for the company.

Apple showed off its progress in AI at WWDC, claiming that AI now gives Siri the necessary intelligence to “interpret your intentions”, according to Engadget.com. Siri can also become your personal banker, among other things.

But by most people’s reckoning, Apple is playing catch-up in AI.

new imac pro
The thermal architecture gives iMac Pro 80 per cent more cooling capacity, enabling higher levels of performance

Thermal imagining 

Apple is also showing its generous side this year, offering to give each and every one of its 100 billion customers one whole US dollar. The only catch is that the customer has to first give Apple five thousand dollars to buy one of its new iMac Pro computers.

Seriously. Five thousand dollars. For an iMac. Yes, it’s a Pro version, and yes it packs a lot more technology than any other iMac before it… but five grand? Who in their right mind is going to hand over five grand for a desktop computer?

It’s almost as expensive as a celebrity divorce settlement, but it’s unlikely that the average customer would want to leave the comfort of the Apple Cult over such piffling sums – the Mac Pro might be the thing that does that, but there has been no mention of that so far at WWDC 2017.

The new iMac Pro is said to be “the most powerful Mac ever”, featuring:

  • 18-core Intel Xeon processors;
  • 22 teraflops of graphics processing unit performance;
  • fast storage;
  • 27-inch Retina 5K display, with capacity for connecting two more;
  • 10 Gb Ethernet;
  • support for 4 TB of SSD and 128 GB opf ECC memory;
  • four Thunderbolt 3 ports; and
  • connection for two high-performance RAID arrays.

Sounds like a beast of a machine considering its civilised exterior, and Apple says it’s capable of real-time 3D rendering, and virtual reality content creation.

Real-time video rendering can be a struggle for the most basic iMacs of a few years ago, so this is a significant leap forward. But five thousand dollars?

“This will be our fastest and most powerful Mac ever, which brings workstation-class computing to iMac for the first time,” says John Ternus, Apple’s vice president of hardware engineering.

“We re-engineered the whole system and designed an entirely new thermal architecture to pack extraordinary performance into the elegant, quiet iMac enclosure our customers love – iMac Pro is a huge step forward and there’s never been anything like it.”

There’s never been a price like it either, he said. No he didn’t. That was me.

The entry level iMac 21.5 inch is more affordable at $1,099 and the mid-range iMac Retina 4K 21.5 inch is $1,299.

ipad-pro-family-black
Elite shape-shifting alien technology before your very eyes

Proof of Apple’s shape-shifting alien technology

Apple is said to have updated all its products this year, and while we can’t confirm that, or anything else, the iPad Pro certainly provides conclusive proof that shape-shifting alien technology exists on Earth.

An all-new 10.5 inch iPad and a new 12.9 inch iPad Pro feature what Apple calls “the world’s most advanced display with ProMotion technology”, and the new A10X Fusion chip.

Most people might appreciate the ProMotion when the device displays pictures, but typographers – who despair at the dire quality of on-screen type, and computer screens’ ability or inability to smooth out the curves of a serif font – may also appreciate it.

Hopefully the new iPad Pro brings the traditional pleasure of reading newspapers and magazines back to many of the new generation – and some from the older generations – who may not know or have forgotten what it’s like to stop and read an article for more than 30 seconds.

But to be fair, what’s more interesting about the iPad Pro is the new microprocessor, the A10X Fusion chip – Apple’s latest and probably its most technologically crucial innovation.

The features, or benefits, of the A10X Fusion chip include 30 percent faster CPU performance and 40 percent faster GPU performance than its predecessor, the A9X, and it delivers “all-day battery life”, according to Apple.

apple augmented reality
A ghost haunting a coffee table can be seen through an Apple iPad’s augmented reality app

In other news 

Other announcements at WWDC included the update of the operating system for mobile devices, to iOS 11, which notably includes some type of file management app – called Files.

And for developers, Apple has created a platform, or programming framework, called ARKit to enable the building of augmented reality apps.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, says: “With iOS 11, we’re delivering the biggest AR platform in the world, and it’s available today for developers to begin building AR experiences using ARKit for hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users.

“iOS 11 gives iPad users the powerful app functionality they need to take advantage of everything iPad is capable of, and brings hundreds of new features and incredible updates to the iOS apps iPhone and iPad users enjoy every day.”

Old-fashioned desktop and laptop computer users were also not forgotten by Apple, which released a spruced-up version of macOS, this one called High Sierra.

Apple says High Sierra features an enhanced Apple File System which now offers “instantaneous” common operations such as copying files, and provides “a foundation for future storage innovations”.

The new iMac is said to have faster Intel “Kaby Lake” processors, offerings speeds up to 4.5 GHz. Fusion Drive is now standard on top-end iMacs and SSD storage is “50 per cent faster”.

The MacBook also has 50 per cent faster SSD storage capability, and its Kaby Lake processors can be boosted to 3.6 GHz.

The MackBook Pro, meanwhile is capable of going to 4.1 GHz. And a new configuration of the Pro laptop is yours for a mere $1,299 in the US.

There has been no news about the Mac Pro, but WWDC isn’t over yet and people might need time to recover after learning the price of that one.

A new-look App Store was unveiled, but what everyone seems to want to know is what the new iPhone will look like.

But beyond the shape-shifting alien technology integrations, we don’t know.