There has been speculation that Apple may be planning to build its own home speaker device to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, with some expressing the view that Apple is already late to the party.
But does Apple need to compete in this space, when it arguably already has its own version of Echo or Home? The one that’s either on your wrist or in your pocket …
Each approach has pros and cons, of course. A speaker provides more convenient access. If you want to switch on your lights or ask a question or play some music, you have only to speak and the always-listening speaker will respond. No buttons to press, nothing to pick up, just speak. And it can be used by anyone in your home.
But unless you’re going to lay out the cash for one speaker per room (which isn’t cheap with either Amazon Echo or Google Home), a speaker only works in limited areas of the home. If you have an Apple Watch, you have convenient access to Siri anywhere in the home.
Without a Watch, things are more finely balanced. If you keep your phone in one room at home, it’s not really any different to a speaker. If you carry it in your pocket, you can pull it out to use it in other rooms, but it’s less convenient in the living room.
I suspect much of it may come down to the type of household makeup. For couples who both own a Watch, that’s going to win out almost every time; if you have a larger family, especially one where not everyone owns an Apple device, a speaker or two makes far more sense.
However, there’s also the security issue of an always-listening device. While both Amazon and Google say that recognition of the trigger-word happens locally, and only then is speech passed to the cloud to decode the rest of the command, not everyone will be happy with a device that could potentially eavesdrop on everything said in the home.
Some have suggested, for example, that a government agency could get a court order requiring Amazon to set your Echo to listen at all times and effectively use your own speaker as a wiretapping device. While the average consumer may have no concerns about criminal investigations, if that capability does indeed exist then there is the obvious risk that the functionality could be internally misused or externally hacked.
While some describe Echo and Home as more capable than Siri, able to understand and act on a wider range of requests, that’s an argument for Apple to make Siri smarter, not one for the company to start building speakers.
Indeed, it could be argued that an Apple speaker that can be used by anyone in the home would reduce demand for the Watch or additional iOS devices, as one device would serve multiple people.
However, if Apple were to adopt the speaker approach, it seems to me that there could be a halfway-house solution which again employs existing Apple devices. Given that the majority of usage of smart speaker systems probably occurs in the living-room, perhaps microphones could be added to the Apple TV to allow it to perform this role?
Since TV sets won’t be switched on all the time, it’s probably not practical to rely on the television speaker for responses, so the Apple TV box would need a speaker too, so we might be talking about an Apple TV Plus model, allowing people the choice of a smaller device without the added capabilities or a larger one with them. With a little intelligence, the box could use its own speaker when the TV is off and the existing TV speakers when it’s on.
What’s your view? Would a smarter Siri on existing Apple devices be enough? Would you prefer an Apple TV Plus with smart speaker capabilities? Or should Apple follow Amazon and Google and make a standalone smart speaker? Please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.
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Images: PR shots from Amazon and Google, with Apple TV image by Eric Blattberg/VentureBeat