Rumors have it that Apple may ship its Echo and Google Home competitor as early as WWDC.
The timing would be classic Apple: let the early players work out the kinks in the market, then come in with something you think is more nicely designed and works better than the devices that founded the category.
A Siri Voice Canister carved of a single block of aluminum with a multitouch control surface? Sign me up.
The other side of this isn’t as positive. I don’t think Siri works as well as these other voice assistants in some contexts. I rarely have my Echo misunderstand my words or misinterpret them, and Google is basically king of the hill here.
Additionally, Apple’s reluctance to open Siri to more third-party services means its not as extensible as something like Alexa with its Skills program.
If this product is real, I think Apple has to expand SiriKit into a much richer platform. The Siri Voice Canister will have to be able to work without a paired iPhone present. I’ll be looking for that at WWDC, even if there is no hardware announced.
In thinking about what physically goes into a product like this, its clear Apple has all the expertise needed. Networking, speakers and microphones are things the company understands. In fact, according to Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple’s product could be sold at a premium based on sound quality:
We expect Apple’s first home AI product will have excellent acoustics performance (one woofer + seven tweeters) and computing power (similar to iPhone 6/6S AP). Therefore the product is likely to be positioned for: (i) the high-end market; (ii) better entertainment experience; and (iii) higher price than Amazon Echo.
All of that feels right to me, but I still have some questions about what this product could be like if Apple really leveraged its ecosystem.
The Echo and Google Home both fall back to a mobile app when they can’t deliver the results the user expects. Tap the Echo app on my iPhone, and you’ll see a trail of every request it has heard, but the Echo itself will direct a user there when it can’t reply with voice:
This is a space where Apple’s integration could really shine. Not only could this type of information simply show up on the lock screen of an associated iPhone, I think it’s be great for the Apple Watch to be involved as well.
The Echo and products like it want to live in the kitchen. It’s a natural place a voice assistant. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve spoken to our Echo while cooking or washing dishes. Having a Siri Voice Canister fall back to my Watch means information is just a glance away, even if I have my hands in the sink.
Update: Several people have suggested Apple could just build this type of functionality into the next Apple TV. I think this is a flawed idea for a couple of reasons.
First, most people don’t have an Apple TV in their kitchens, where these products are the most useful. Even if the Siri Remote would work from a different room of the house well enough for this, then your Siri Remote is constantly in the wrong place when you reach for it.
Secondly, most people don’t leave their TVs on all the time. Would this Apple TV also have a speaker in it? Then you’re back to the first problem, unless the Siri Remote also gains a speaker, which would make it bigger and even worse than it is today.
I just don’t see it. I think this is a separate device from the Apple TV.