Originally slated to come out before the end of 2017, after a brief delay the HomePod smart speaker finally goes on sale on February 9, at a price of US$349. If you're in the US, the UK, or Australia, you can preorder the speaker from Friday, January 26.

We got our first look at the HomePod back in June 2017 at Apple's annual WWDC developers event, when a December on-sale date was mentioned. In November, that date was pushed back to some time in 2018, without a clear reason – Apple just said it needed "a little more time" to get it ready.

Between then and now, the smart speaker market has only got more and more crowded. We saw a bunch of new devices at CES this year, many of them with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa on board, which means Apple is immediately competing against a lot of rival products, many of them much cheaper.

Apple being Apple though, it's promising a premium experience for your money. Apple executive Phil Schiller says users will be "blown away" by the quality of the seven-tweeter array and high-excursion woofer, and there's also a six-microphone array inside this device to make sure your voice can be heard from wherever you are in the room.

Apple says that thanks to some advanced audio engineering, the HomePod can measure the acoustics of the room it's in, and adjust the playback sound accordingly – though as ever we'll need to hear it for ourselves before we can pass judgment.

The Siri digital assistant is on board of course, ready to report on the weather or look something up on the web, and the speaker works with Apple Music or an iTunes library. As is the norm for something built by Apple, you'll struggle to get this working with anything running Windows or Android.

Apple says you can pair two HomePods together for a stereo effect, while multi-room audio is reportedly coming via a software update later this year. At the same time the launch was confirmed, we also learned that the top of the device will support gesture controls, so you won't have to use your voice to work it.

Finally, the HomePod will work in various ways with HomeKit-compatible devices, so you'll be able to use it to control your smart lights or smart thermostat, as long as they have the HomeKit badge on them. Any apps that support Siri on your iPhone, like WhatsApp, can also be operated via the HomePod.

With other tech firms going all-in on the smart speaker concept ever since the Amazon Echo first arrived in 2014, it's going to be interesting to see how well the HomePod sells. In addition to the February 9 launch in the US, the UK, and Australia, the speaker is going on sale in France and Germany sometime in the next few months.

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