Apple's HomePod available Feb. 9, pre-orders start this Friday

The $350 smart speaker is the company's answer the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

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Starting this Friday, January 26, pre-orders for Apple's HomePod will begin. The smart speaker will then begin shipping and be available in stores starting February 9.

At launch, the HomePod will be available in the US, UK, and Australia. France and Germany will see the smart speaker in the spring.

With Siri built into the speaker, users can create reminders, set timers, play music through Apple Music, stream podcasts and send messages.

The HomePod was originally announced in June of 2017 at a developer conference, with the initial launch set for around the holidays. As the end of the year grew near, Apple ultimately delayed the launch.

Apple's HomePod is available in space gray and white.

Previous Coverage:

Apple HomePod: Late, and pricey, but this smart speaker could still have one advantage over its rivals

Has Apple given Amazon, Google, and others too much of a head-start in the smart speaker market?

Apple needs to be in the smart speaker market because these devices are becoming a key gateway to subscription services like music, can connect with smart home gadgets, and facilitate other activities like shopping and playing games. A lot of that used to be done through the smartphone, with one in three smart speaker purchasers reporting they were spending less time on their smartphone.

HomePod will help Apple sell Apple Music and also keep Siri, its digital assistant, relevant: the smart speaker won't replace the smartphone, but it's still a category where Apple needs to perform well.

Launching late into a new market is seen as a problem for most companies, but it's a tried-and-tested model for Apple: let others establish the market and make mistakes, and then swoop in with a premium product that fixes the problems rivals couldn't solve.

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