Bloomberg is reporting that an Apple Siri smart speaker is now in production. Voicebot covered many rumors and validated reports (here, here, here, and here) pointing to a smart speaker announcement next week at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). We also evaluated how AirPods have provided a bridge to Siri as a pervasive voice assistant. However, the absence of a smart speaker is a gap in Apple’s product portfolio. Bloomberg reports that the gap will be filled later this year.
No Display, Just High Quality Sound
MacRumors immediately pointed out that Bloomberg’s report suggests that the forthcoming Amazon Echo rival will not have a display.
Despite rumors hinting at a touch screen, and comments from Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller questioning the usefulness of an AI-based speaker product without a screen, the upcoming Siri speaker will not feature a display.
The product is supposed to have high quality sound instead. I admit the idea that Apple will differentiate its new speaker by providing better sound quality made me grin thinking about how the Apple Watch announcement focused so much on how the device could tell time. So, the device is going to perform the function it was invented for? Wow. Then again, I have reported previously that Apple has a reputation in the audio space, a long history in the music business and owns Beats brand headphones. The company cannot afford to be just another commodity speaker for many reasons. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Alex Webb reported:
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…
Siri Needs More than Great Sound, She Needs Skills
Apple has been working on third party smart home integrations through its Home Kit offering and the company has its own services such as Apple Music and Apple TV. But that won’t be enough. The company has built a large developer ecosystem around iOS and needs it to mobilize and start building voice applications for Siri now. This will offer more utility to consumers than just a high quality speaker for audio entertainment. You can bet that a new version of iOS supporting the speaker and offering greater developer access and new domains beyond the seven offered in SiriKit will be a key announcement.
In addition, Apple needs to rapidly augment Siri’s native skills to better compete with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Siri can execute transactional commands such as sending a message or opening an app, but beyond that she struggles with more complex queries and conversational interactions are non-existent. The vision of voice activated smart watches, smart speakers and AirPods is compelling, but the AI behind Siri needs to go beyond speech recognition and simple programmatic responses to compete.
The smart speaker is a good step for Apple users. However, you should pay just as much attention to Apple’s announcements around Siri enhancements and third-party developer agreements to gauge how quickly the company will close the gap with Amazon and Google for voice assistant placement in the home.