Apple's HomePod will be available to order Friday and will arrive Feb. 9

Key Points
  • Apple's long-awaited smart speaker, HomePod, is finally hitting shelves.
  • You can preorder on Friday. It will be available Feb. 9.
  • After Amazon Alexa dominated the holiday season, there will be extra pressure on Apple.
A first look at Apple's HomePod, an Amazon Echo competitor

Apple's long-awaited smart speaker is finally hitting shelves.

Apple begins accepting preorders for the HomePod on Friday, and it will be available Feb. 9, the company said Tuesday. The release dates apply to the U.S., U.K. and Australia. The speaker will be sold this spring in France and Germany, two of Siri's primary markets.

Apple's HomePod was unveiled last year and is widely seen as Siri's answer to Amazon's Alexa, although Apple has emphasized the high-fidelity music capabilities of the speaker.

After Alexa dominated the holiday season, there will be extra pressure on Apple. Although Amazon rarely discloses exact sales, the e-commerce company has said that its Echoes were among the top-selling products across any category during the holidays.

The $349 7-inch tall speaker will also promote some of Apple's most important new initiatives. For one, it will be a conduit for Apple Music, part of Apple's fast-growing and ambitious services division.

Apple's chief competitor in streaming music — Spotify — is expected to go public this year. Apple will have to prove it still has the muscle that launched the iPod to popularity.

The speaker also shows off Apple's cross-device compatibility with accessories like iPhones and AirPods, a major selling point of its sticky ecosystem. Plus, the artificial intelligence in the device will reflect on Apple's in-house chip business. The HomePod has an A8 chip.

Apple also played up its privacy features, addressing the U.S. technology sector's increased scrutiny over consumer protection.

"[O]nly after 'Hey Siri' is recognized locally on the device will any information be sent to Apple servers, encrypted and sent using an anonymous Siri identifier," Apple said in its announcement.

Like Amazon's Echo speakers, HomePod will offer new opportunities for owners of smart home devices thanks to HomeKit, the portal that Apple developers use to connect "smart" home devices to the iPhone ecosystem.