Apple might announce its long-rumored Siri-powered smart speaker during the company’s annual developer conference next week, according to a Bloomberg report. If true, the Apple speaker will compete with similar devices from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Andy Rubin’s company Essential and others.
According to the report:
The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said.
The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren’t yet public.
The move is largely defensive, given the head start Amazon (especially) and Google have with their devices. According to third-party data compiled by Mary Meeker and Kleiner Perkins, Amazon is approaching an installed base of 12 million Alexa devices in the US.
Source: Kleiner Perkins, data compiled from third party sources (incl. CIRP)
Each of these virtual assistants is part of a larger ecosystem play. The platform to which consumers pledge their loyalty has implications for their future hardware and content purchases.
As Bloomberg points out, “[T]he Home and Echo mostly don’t support services from Apple. Without compatible hardware, users may be more likely to opt for the Echo or Home, and therefore use streaming music offerings such as Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Google Play rather than Apple Music.”
Bloomberg also reports that Apple employees have been testing the new devices in their homes since late last year. The Apple speaker apparently does not include a touchscreen. Amazon recently introduced the Echo Show, featuring a substantial screen.
In the battle for developers’ hearts and minds, this will be another point of distribution for Apple. Last year Apple opened up Siri and Maps to third-party developers. The same back-end integrations could be used here to create voice apps or skills (whichever term you prefer) for the Siri speaker.
Differentiation is apparently to come from better sound quality and Apple HomeKit integration. That may not be enough.
There are many Apple fans and loyalists poised to buy such a device — price will be a factor for the mass audience — but it will need to be not just a “me-too” product or it will lose out to Amazon’s aggressive pricing (for Echo dot) or Google Home’s broader search-enabled capabilities.
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