Google is Prepping a Tabletop Smart Screen Device to Rival Amazon’s Echo Show

Google is working on a tabletop smart screen for video calling and more that will go up against Amazon's Echo Show, according to sources who spoke to TechCrunch.

The Google device is internally codenamed "Manhattan" and will have a screen size similar to the 7-inch Echo Show, said two sources, one of whom reportedly received information directly from a Google employee. The device is said to run a version of Android, meaning it could be capable of running third-party apps, with Netflix being mooted as a possibility.

Amazon's Echo Show device.

Both sources claim the device will offer access to Google Assistant, Google Photos, and YouTube – which goes some ways to explaining why the latter video service was unceremoniously pulled from Amazon's Echo Show on Tuesday.

Google's device will also reportedly work as a smart hub for controlling other connected smart home gadgets and appliances, similar to Amazon's new Echo Plus speaker unveiled earlier this week.

According to TechCrunch's sources, the original target launch date for the Manhattan device was mid-2018, but Google is apparently under intense pressure to get the product out the door before the end of this year, given that the Echo Show is already on the market. Google has a hardware event scheduled for October 4, but it's unclear if the device will make an appearance.

Other rumors floating about suggest the tech giant is readying an upmarket version of its Google Home smart speaker to rival Apple's upcoming $350 HomePod. Known internally as "Google Home Max", the "premium" device is said to feature stereo speakers housed in a high-quality design.

Thanks to leaks, we already know that Google will announce a mini version of its Google Home speaker at its hardware event, alongside new Pixel smartphones and a rebranded Google Pixelbook. But there's also talk of $159 Google-branded Bluetooth earbuds on the way with Google Assistant built-in.

Whatever the exact line-up of products the company drops on October 4, stay tuned to MacRumors for a full summary immediately following the event next week.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tags: Google, Amazon Echo

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Amazon Music Mobile App Updated With Alexa Integration

Amazon has updated its Amazon Music iOS app so that its Alexa virtual assistant can now be used to play songs and discover new artists. After installing the update, users in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Austria can ask Alexa to play music by genre, decade, mood, tempo, activity, and even lyrics.

The feature is activated from the app interface using a new Alexa button, which has been designed to feel like a natural extension to asking Alexa smart speakers around the home to play music, while aiding users who aren't using two hands to interact with their phone.


Alexa is capable of responding to commands like "play the song of the day" or "play music for studying", adding an extra level of discoverability to Amazon Music when using the iOS app. As noted by The Verge, music companies are also reportedly investigating whether Alexa can be leveraged to make Amazon's music services more competitive, with song metadata like tagging and categorization being seen as potential entry points for more sophisticated voice-activated music features.

Set to launch in December, Apple's $350 HomePod smart speaker uses Siri to enable similar voice-activated commands, which Apple hopes users will come to view as an intelligent "virtual DJ" that can learn and adapt to their musical tastes.

The Amazon Music app is a free download for iPhone and iPad available from the App Store. [Direct Link]

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tag: Amazon Music Unlimited

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Samsung Confirms Work on Speaker to Compete With Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo

Samsung is indeed working on a smart speaker that will be introduced in the near future, Samsung mobile president DJ Koh told CNBC this morning.

"Maybe soon we will announce it. I am already working on it," he said in an interview following the Galaxy Note 8 launch.

Koh went on to say he wants to "provide a fruitful user experience at home with Samsung devices." "I want to be moving quite heavily on it," he added.

Apple's HomePod

Koh declined to provide additional details about the company's upcoming smart speaker, but a previous report suggests it will be built around Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant. The speaker has been in development for more than a year, but has been hampered by problems with Bixby.

Samsung initially had to delay Bixby's introduction in the English language version of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ due to performance issues, with the functionality being added to the devices just a month ago in in July.

There's no specific launch date for the Samsung speaker, but with Apple planning to debut its own HomePod in December, Samsung's competing device is unlikely to be too far behind. In July, Samsung's speaker was said to still be in early development, with several features and specifications yet to be hammered out.

Apple's HomePod focuses heavily on speaker quality as a way to distinguish itself from competitors like the Amazon Echo. It features a 7 tweeter array, an Apple-designed 4-inch upward-facing woofer, and an A8 chip that powers robust spatial awareness functionality.

It also includes touch controls for navigation, six microphones, built-in Apple Music support, and Siri integration.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tag: Samsung

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Details on HomePod’s Setup Process Surface in Newest iOS 11 Developer Beta

Almost one month after the HomePod's firmware first began revealing tidbits about Apple's upcoming smart speaker, the iPhone 8, and even the Apple Watch Series 3, today iHelp BR has a few more pieces of information on the setup process for the HomePod. Interestingly, the site noted that the data doesn't come from HomePod firmware, but was discovered within the seventh iOS 11 beta, seeded to developers yesterday.

The new details suggest in broad strokes what users can expect when they first open their HomePod and sync it with an iPhone. Although HomePod lacks a W1 chip, the speaker will connect and pair with iOS devices in some capacity, and one new image discovered within the iOS 11 developer beta shows off a user interface similar to that of the AirPods pairing screen.

Image via iHelp BR
According to some images that we find in the internal files of the system, the pairing of the HomePod (codename B238) will be very similar to the AirPods wireless headphones. When you turn on the sound box for the first time, iOS will ask the user if they want to perform the setup with that iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It will not be possible to set up a HomePod for Mac or Apple TV - although it is very likely that the device will work normally with them later.
The next screen that appears on iOS references a HomePod setup process similar to the initial setup of an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, with the major difference being that "Siri must be present in almost the entire process." At one point, a string of code suggests that Siri will read out a four digit code to the user, which is then entered on the paired iOS device as a form of authentication.

A similar string mentions that users will need to enter the last four digits of the HomePod's serial number, or the iOS device's serial number, although some of these processes might be tied to repeatedly failed setup attempts as a form of security.

Users will need to confirm their Apple ID in order to sync iCloud and Apple Music with HomePod, and in addition the new data said that Apple accounts without two-factor authentication or iCloud Keychain enabled will not be able to complete some steps in the pairing process. The iOS 11 code strings also mention that "you must be connected to a WPA/WPA2 Personal Wi-Fi network to set up your HomePod."

On HomePod, users will be able to choose the accent of Siri and the gender of the voice assistant, agree or disagree to send daily diagnostics to Apple, and agree to install updates manually or automatically through an iOS device. The code describes an ability for users to sync multiple HomePods in one house to save all of these settings across speakers, and even an "update all HomePods" and "install on all HomePods" feature to cut down the time of the update process for multi-HomePod households.

In other, more expected findings, the code strings mention that any songs, albums, and artists played through HomePod will be seen by a user's followers on Apple Music and influence the recommendations in "For You." Additionally, the HomePod's touch-sensitive display area on the top of the device will allow for various volume and playback controls, including VoiceOver-enabled controls like "touch to speak," "lift to activate," and "hold on volume controls to change quickly."

Previously, the HomePod firmware revealed a few UI sounds that users will likely hear during the pairing process, as well as some potential timer-related notifications. A recent comment by Inventec Appliances president David Ho -- supplier of the HomePod -- has suggested that the device will see a limited launch in December of around 500,000 units, before expanding in 2018 thanks to the addition of Foxconn to the speaker's supply chain.

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HomePod Supplies Limited at Launch, but Foxconn Coming on Board in 2018 to Increase Production

Inventec Appliances has been a rumored supplier for Apple's HomePod smart speaker since before the device was announced at WWDC in June, and now the manufacturer has indicated that supplies for HomePod might be limited at launch, in line with most Apple product launches (via Nikkei).

The news came from Inventec Appliances president David Ho during a press conference today. Although his comments never specifically mentioned "HomePod," the estimated time frame given for the release of the product -- late in 2017 -- and its description as a high-profile "smart home device," suggest it to be Apple's upcoming speaker. At WWDC, Apple confirmed that the HomePod would launch sometime in December.


Now, Ho has stated that the HomePod's contribution to the company's revenue for this year will be "fairly limited" -- which is expected given the device is launching so late in the year -- with optimistic improvements to profit gained from HomePod sales predicted for early 2018. One analyst speculated that the number of HomePod units shipped in December 2017 will be around 500,000.
“We will finally ship the smart home device this year, but its contribution will be fairly limited and hopefully that will improve next year,” Inventec Appliances President David Ho told analysts and reporters during an earnings conference.

“Inventec Appliances will likely only ship some 500,000 units of HomePod this year, and the device’s contribution to the group’s revenue will be less than 1%,” said Arthur Liao, an analyst at Taipei-based Fubon Securities.
In 2018, Apple will look to open up HomePod manufacturing to more than just Inventec Appliances, according to one of Nikkei's sources, who stated that Apple is planning to add Foxconn into the HomePod supply chain next year. This will result in Inventec Appliances and Foxconn receiving a "split" of HomePod orders and boosting production for the smart home speaker, following the limited initial launch.

Inventec Appliance's total smart home and connected devices shipments are expected to grow to between 70 and 75 million units by the end of 2017, but company officials didn't specifically break down the numbers related to the Apple products it makes.

In addition to HomePod, Inventec Appliances also manufactures Apple's AirPods, which have been particularly difficult for many users to purchase since the wireless earphones launched last December. Earlier in August, the estimated shipping date for AirPods finally lowered to four weeks from six weeks, which had been the shipping estimate for the previous eight months.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Tags: Foxconn, nikkei.com

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Apple’s ‘iPhone 8’ May Mute Notification Sounds When the User is Looking at the Screen

The HomePod firmware that Apple pushed out to public servers over a week ago continues to reveal tantalizing tidbits of information about unannounced Apple hardware, and this time the plaudits go to iOS developer Guilherme Rambo for discovering lines of code that suggest the upcoming "iPhone 8" will automatically suppress notification sounds when a user is looking at the screen.


Apple's redesigned OLED iPhone is believed to include a front-facing 3D sensor capability, likely powered by acquired PrimeSense technology, that enables Apple's new facial authentication feature.

As a possible extension of biometric authentication, the line of code beginning "TLAttentionAwarenessObserver" implies that the same infrared depth sensors may be used to mute audible notifications when the user is giving the phone their full attention and looking directly at the screen. Previously uncovered code within the HomePod firmware suggests the "iPhone 8" will also be able to scan the user's face even while the device is lying flat on a table.

Of course, there's no guarantee that the sound suppression feature will show up in Apple's upcoming OLED iPhone, due to launch next month, but if it does, it's likely to be user-configurable as an Accessibility consideration. If anything it highlights another potential use case for Apple's face detection feature, which could replace Touch ID fingerprint authentication entirely on future iPhones.

While many observers remain skeptical that Touch ID can be replaced by a facial recognition system that's equally secure, rumors have suggested Apple's facial recognition technique captures more data points than a fingerprint scan, making it even more secure than Touch ID.

(Thanks, Dean!)

Related Roundups: iPhone 8, HomePod

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HomePod Firmware Suggests iPhone 8 Will Be Able to Scan Your Face While Device is Laying Flat

The newest discovery found within the HomePod firmware has shed some light on the iPhone 8's facial recognition software, and how it could potentially scan a user's face even when the smartphone is laying flat on a table. Uncovered by iHelp BR, code within the firmware related to "Pearl," which is Apple's internal name for the new facial recognition system, also includes multiple references to the word "resting" alongside "unlock."

The feature was discovered to be categorized as an accessibility option, specifically called "AXRestingPearlUnlock" and "com.apple.accessibility.resting.pearl.unlock". While not an exact confirmation, the HomePod firmware discovery does corroborate a report by Bloomberg from July that said Apple was working on an "improved" facial recognition system for iPhone 8, which would replace Touch ID and allegedly work even when the smartphone was flat on a table.

Image via iHelp BR

That story claimed the iPhone 8's facial recognition would capture more data points than Touch ID, making it more secure. When rumors first came out that the iPhone 8 would potentially remove Touch ID completely, many iPhone users raised concerns about not being able to unlock their devices as they have been for years, due to a facial recognition system that would need to have the iPhone brought up directly in front of their face.

According to Bloomberg's report, and the new HomePod firmware findings, Apple's facial identification software will have far more nuance than simply scanning faces head-on, and allow the smartphone to be unlocked even when it's at an odd angle. At the time of the report last month, the advanced facial recognition feature was "still being tested" and had the potential to not appear in the iPhone 8 this year. The new discovery within the HomePod firmware, which runs a modified version of iOS, makes it more likely that the advanced face ID system could make it into the iPhone 8.

One of the first HomePod firmware discoveries was a glyph of the iPhone 8

The firmware also includes references to Apple's facial detection software working with third-party apps, found in a string called "APPS_USING_PEARL". This means that users would potentially be able to unlock features within certain apps using their face, like they can currently within banking apps, for example, using their fingerprint and Touch ID. Another line includes a detail called "PEARL_AUTOLOCK", and iHelp BR theorizes this could be a security feature that automatically locks the iPhone when it detects someone trying to open it whose face doesn't match that of the authenticated user.

According to a recent Tweet by Mark Gurman, Apple's pitch for facial recognition will be that the new feature is "quicker, more secure, and more accurate than Touch ID." Other recent HomePod firmware leaks revealed that the iPhone 8's facial recognition will likely work with Apple Pay and that the smartphone might record 4K Video at 60 FPS with both front and rear cameras.

Related Roundups: iPhone 8, HomePod

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HomePod Firmware Possibly Reveals Apple Watch With LTE and 4K Apple TV With HDR10 and Dolby Vision

iOS developer Guilherme Rambo‏ has discovered a reference to a 4K HDR display mode in the HomePod's firmware, lending credence to rumors of Apple testing a fifth-generation Apple TV capable of streaming 4K resolution video.


HomePod doesn't have a display, and iOS devices lack the resolution for native 4K playback, so the discovery likely pertains to the Apple TV.

Rambo also discovered strings kCADisplayModeDolby and kCADisplayModeHDR10, suggesting that a 4K Apple TV could support both the Dolby Vision and HDR10 color formats for high-dynamic-range video.


Apple has also listed select movies as 4K and HDR in iTunes purchase history, at least in Canada and the United Kingdom. The content is still only playable in standard definition or HD, which varies from 720p to 1080p, but Apple could be preparing to offer iTunes content in 4K HDR for its new Apple TV.

Another developer Jeffrey Grossman‏ also spotted a possible reference to an Apple Watch with LTE support. The string, which refers to GizmoPreservingeSIM, lends credence to a report yesterday that claimed Apple Watch Series 3 models will feature cellular connectivity for use without a paired iPhone.


The relevant bit of that string is the mention of a SIM, as the Apple Watch Series 3 would presumably have an embedded SIM card if it had cellular connectivity. Another string mentions GizmoRadioBundleIdentifier, which could refer to the Apple Watch Series 3's cellular radio, reportedly to be supplied by Intel.

For those unaware, in 2015, The New York Times reported the Apple Watch was codenamed Gizmo internally.
Inside Apple, members of the team that worked on the watch product, code-named Gizmo, say it was a difficult engineering challenge.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving


Last week, Apple seeded an over-the-air firmware file for the HomePod, revealing that it will run a slightly modified version of iOS. The pre-release software is said to correspond with iOS 11.0.2, and it contains references to several unreleased features that would normally be redacted before a public release.


The firmware contains a payload that can be unpacked into a filesystem using a few developer tools, giving anyone skilled enough the ability to search through thousands of strings in the software using Terminal commands and disassembly apps like Hopper. For the past eight days, that's exactly what's happened.

Since the HomePod firmware is based on a full iOS stack, many discoveries have been made not only about the smart speaker, but also potentially about the so-called iPhone 8, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

Thanks to the HomePod firmware, we know that that the iPhone 8's front camera may record 4K video at 60 FPS, and that its infrared facial recognition capabilities may work with Apple Pay. The firmware also revealed a glyph of an iPhone 8 with a full-front display with a notch at the top for the earpiece and sensors.

As for the HomePod itself, it's been discovered that the smart speaker's multi-color LED waveform visible when interacting with Siri measures in at 272×340 pixels. HomePod also appears to have 1GB of RAM, and some of the speaker's sound effects were found buried in the firmware.

HomePod doesn't launch until December, so the firmware was likely released by accident, under the identifier AudioAccessory1,1.


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Latest HomePod Firmware Discovery Shares First UI Sounds of Apple’s Smart Speaker

In the continued release of Apple news originating from developers digging through HomePod firmware, we now have some of the first user interface sounds that HomePod users could be hearing once the smart home speaker launches this December.


Developer Avery Magnotti discovered the sounds within a file named "audioOS" of the HomePod firmware that Apple released this past weekend. In order of appearance in the file, the sounds are called:
alarm1.wav
Lighthouse.wav
SessionInactive-b238.wav
SetupFinal-b238.m4a
SetupStepSource-b238.m4a
SetupStepTarget-b238.m4a
timer1.wav
TwoShot-b238.wav
WOCAudioPasscodeTone.wav

To hear what the files sound like, Magnotti posted a video on his YouTube channel, sharing samples of each file listed. Alarm1 and Timer1 sound like simple tones that HomePod users might be able to choose from when setting up timers in their kitchens. The rest are a bit more unclear, although each Setup file is likely related to the initial pairing process of HomePod and a user's iPhone.


HomePod firmware-related reveals have been steadily rolling out since Saturday, revealing the general design of the iPhone 8, referencing a "split" status bar, including potential new Apple Watch skiing workouts, and more. Magnotti himself revealed yesterday that the HomePod's Siri display measures in at 272 x 340.

The reason that there are so many iPhone and Apple Watch bits of news coming out of the new HomePod firmware is because Apple's smart speaker will run on a modified version of iOS when it launches, and the firmware being investigated by developers relates to iOS 11.0.2. Apple announced the HomePod at WWDC this year, and it will launch this December for $349.

Related Roundup: HomePod

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HomePod Features 272 x 340 Display and 1GB RAM

Though Apple's HomePod speaker won't launch until December, Apple on Friday released firmware for the device, allowing developers to glean information both about the speaker itself and the upcoming iPhone 8 by digging into the code.

According to the latest revelation, shared on Twitter by Avery Magnotti, the screen of the HomePod that's used to display a visible multicolor LED waveform when interacting with Siri measures in at 272 x 340.


The display blends in seamlessly with the top of the device and is primarily dedicated to making it clear when Siri is listening to a command, but it also includes virtual buttons for activating Siri and controlling speaker volume. Based on previous leaks, the screen could also display other shapes or symbols, but its full functionality isn't yet known.


Along with the dimensions of the display, the information leaked today suggests the HomePod is equipped with 1GB RAM, equivalent to the amount of RAM in older iOS devices. HomePod also includes an A8 chip, and combined with the RAM, it's more powerful than competing smart speakers, enabling features like spatial awareness, Siri interactivity, and impressive sound.

As we learned over the weekend, HomePod will run a full version of iOS and can be equated to an iPhone without a screen. It will use a shell app called "SoundBoard" to integrate with the hardware built into the device, and it will include Accessibility features like VoiceOver.

HomePod is priced at $349 and will be available for purchase in December.

Related Roundup: HomePod

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