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Apple’s latest launches will keep it in the limelight for months ahead


Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference held recently in California

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference held recently in California

Apple's new home speaker, the HomePod

Apple's new home speaker, the HomePod

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference held recently in California

At times, it was almost impossible to keep up. Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) included more new launches than any other single Apple event in recent history.

From revamped iMacs and MacBooks to a new smart speaker and umpteen big software upgrades, the reverberations from what was launched will be felt for the rest of the year.

But how do the new machines and services measure up? And what do they tell us about the kind of company Apple will be in future?

Here are the four most important takeaways from Apple's new offerings:

1. Apple reaffirms its faith with core Mac computers

There have been insinuations floating around that Apple is fading away from its Mac and MacBook line of devices to concentrate on the category it makes most money from - iPhones. At this year's WWDC, Apple smashed this notion to bits.

It unveiled a new top-end desktop computer, calling it the iMac Pro. With a 27in display, it's a beast with up to 128GB of Ram and up to 18 Intel Xeon cores, a configuration that few other computers can match.

It's a little like getting a Porsche and adding a load of horsepower just for the hell of it. It's so powerful it can run two giant 5K monitors at the same time (it has a 5K display itself). As such, it's likely to appeal to media professionals and developers. Indeed, when I looked at it, Apple showed off some virtual-reality development systems that it said will suit the power of the new computer.

Although set in the familiar iMac frame, the machine comes with its own distinct look. Apple has coloured the iMac Pro in a space grey matte finish. To keep it exclusive, the firm says that only iMac Pro keyboards and mice will come in this colour.

It has up to four terabytes of solid state storage and 10Gb Ethernet connections for those who really need to network their devices.

There's very little this sort of firepower will struggle with - forget about crashes or stalling antics.

This will zip through multiple heavy workflows like lightning. It won't overheat, either, with a new, more efficient cooling system.

But it won't be cheap, even for the basic configuration. Apple says it's still relatively affordable when rival systems are priced against the iMac Pro's specifications.

Nevertheless, if this seems steep, Apple has updated its other iMac ranges too. All now have the new generation of Intel Kaby Lake processors and bumps in graphics, storage and software.

So does this mean the iMac Pro shoves aside the Mac Pro in Apple's future computing plans?

No - Apple says it is now working on a "completely redesigned, next-generation" Mac Pro that is being built for professional users.

Crucially, this will be modular, something that pro users crave. (The iMac is largely a case of what you get is all you'll have: Apple doesn't let you tinker about too much with adding Ram or memory.)

2. With the new HomePod speaker, Apple is expanding into smart homes in a big way

The holy grail of controlling smart-home devices has been dominated as much by voice-recognition equipped home speaker systems as by phones. Apple has finally entered the competition against Google Home and Amazon's Alexa with its new home speaker, the HomePod. Apple is positioning the 7in device as a very smart speaker that beats rivals on sound quality.

But the company is also making clear that the gadget could become the voice-connected centre of emerging smart home technology for millions of people. This is largely down to the HomePod's compatibility with HomeKit, Apple's software platform that makes everyday domestic appliances work with iOS devices.

In this way, the HomePod can control smart home devices by 'asking' Siri to turn on the lights, close the curtains or turn on the alarm. It can do this too when you're away from the house by using the Home app on an iPhone or iPad.

It can also be used via Siri for messages, news, sport or weather.

The HomePod is quite small, at only 7in tall. However, Apple claims that some high-end technology under its hood gives it an edge for audio quality. "Spatial awareness" sensors allow the HomePod to estimate how best to modify audio levels to maximise effect in any given room.

One of the things Apple wants is to make the HomePod addressable from anywhere in the room, even if there's music playing fairly loudly. In this vein it has a six-microphone array to figure out whether people are nearby.

As a smart speaker, it's designed for Siri to handle advanced searches within the music library. So you can ask it questions such as "Hey Siri, who's the bass player in this?".

Wireless speakers are a booming tech category at present and are seen as a gateway into turning our homes into 'smart' homes. Everyday products such as light bulbs, heating systems and security alarms are increasingly being made to connect to the internet. Domestic appliances such as kettles, washing machines and fridges are also becoming wifi-connected.

3. Apple wants to become a serious player in augmented reality

While Facebook, Samsung and others jump further into a virtual reality ecosystem, Apple is going squarely for an augmented reality (AR) alternative. The difference is that AR can be used on devices we already have, like iPhones, iPads and other everyday gadgets, so you don't need to don a headset to use it.

At WWDC, the company launched an AR kit for iOS to let developers focus on making games and other applications. Because of its scale, Apple claims (with some accuracy) that this makes Apple the world's biggest AR platform.

That doesn't mean the firm is shunning VR, though. A significant part of its pitch on its new iMacs and MacBooks is as tools for VR developers and programmers. John Knoll, chief creative officer for Industrial Light & Magic (which looks after graphics for Star Wars) was on hand to show off some gaming projects.

4. Apple knows our iPhones and iPads are filling up

There are very few people who don't know the pain of handsets that won't save any more photos because they're full to the brim.

To this end, Apple has increased the default (and upper) storage levels on almost all of its updated devices announced this week. This includes the iPad Pro, which now starts at 64GB and goes up to 512GB of storage.

But Apple has also done more. It has re-engineered its photo and video compression rates so that both now only take up half as much space on the iPhone or iPad as they used to. It has done this, it says, without affecting the resolution or quality of the photos and videos.

Belfast Telegraph