AMAZON'S Echo smart speaker is about to get a hot new rival – the Apple HomePod.
The device was originally supposed to go on sale last year and was ultimately delayed, but latest rumours suggest a HomePod release date is just around the corner.
Apple HomePod design and specs – what is it?
The HomePod is a direct rival to the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers.
It's powered by Apple's Siri virtual assistant, and can be controlled by voice commands. Just like the Echo, HomePod will perform tasks like playing music or telling you about the weather.
The speaker is a small, white cylindrical pod that measures about seven inches tall.
Apple release new powerful speaker the 'HomePod' giving you effortless access to music
Inside you'll find seven tweeters, each of which has its own audio driver. There's also a 4-inch woofer that fires bass upwards, for good measure.
A six-microphone array captures your voice, activating when you say "Hey, Siri" aloud – just like an iPhone.
It's powered by an A8 chip, which is the same processor that Apple used for the iPhone 6.
There are also touch controls on top, so you can still control some HomePod features without using your voice.
Apple HomePod release date – when is the HomePod out?
In June 2017, Apple used its Worldwide Developers Conference to show off a bold Amazon Echo rival – the HomePod.
The plan was to launch the speaker in December 2017, but announced in November that this would no longer be the case.
At the time, an Apple spokesperson said: "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home."
"But we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers."
Apple added that it would "start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018", but failed to give a specific date.
The Sun spoke to GBH Insights' Daniel Ives, who helped explain the missed launch: "We believe technical and production hiccups are the reason for the delay, as Apple needed to iron out the issues before HomePod hit the market."
"The delay was disappointing as the window of opportunity around the holiday season came and went with Echo being the star of the show."
In January, a report from the Taipei Times quoted an Apple supplier as saying that HomePod speakers are already being shipped to Apple.
The initial shipment is rumoured to total around one million speakers, but Apple is expected to have between 10-12 million by the end of the year.
Sadly, Apple isn't giving an official date for launch, but expert analyst Imran Choudhary tells us the pressure is on Apple to catch up.
"If this report is to be believed, it looks more than likely that Apple are finally getting closer to the point where they can start selling HomePod."
"Apple will want to make up for lost time and a first-quarter (January-March) release would look likely at this moment in time."
He says if this opportunity is missed then he expects a launch in April or May "at the latest".
Apple HomePod price – how much does the HomePod cost?
Apple is going to sell the HomePod for $349 in the USA, which means we can probably expect a £349 price tag in the UK – although that's not confirmed.
The problem is that this is a seriously high price to sell a smart speaker for.
You can currently pick up the very similar Google Home for just £129 in the UK – which is potentially around a third of the HomePod's final price.
And Amazon is selling the popular Echo smart speaker for a seriously cheap £89.99.
Apple may have a hard time getting people to fork out for the HomePod when they could get several Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers for the same amount of money.
In any case, Apple hasn't released any official launch or pricing information for UK buyers yet, so take all leaks and rumours with a pinch of salt for now.