Tapping Apple’s Siri digital assistant, such a speaker is expected to serve as a butler as well as an outlet for listening to music. If the speculation pans out, the speaker would be Apple’s first new product since its smartwatch in 2015. And it would mark an effort by Apple to catch up with Amazon and Google.
An early glimpse at updates to iPhone and Mac software has become a tradition at Apple’s annual conference for app developers, which began yesterday in San Jose, California. But Apple occasionally also uses the event to introduce new devices and services and upgrades to existing products.
Amazon introduced the Echo speaker, featuring its Alexa assistant, in 2015. Google followed with its Home speaker, featuring its plain-named Assistant, last year. Both speakers can respond to voice requests for the news, weather and tasks such as turning on the lights.
More than 35million people in the US are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year.
“There is so much momentum building around these speakers that it would be difficult for Apple not to come out with one,” said industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.
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Amazon just unveiled a version of Echo with a camera, touch-screen display and video-calling capabilities. The new Echo Show goes on sale on June 28 for $230 (R2940).
Google, meanwhile, previewed new speaker features such as hands-free phone calling during its software conference last month.
Microsoft also has announced its own speaker with Samsung’s Harman business; it will use Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant.
That leaves Apple. Although it was the first smartphone maker to come out with a digital assistant when Siri debuted in 2011, it hasn’t had a stand-alone assistant. For Apple, having one would further broaden the role that its software, services and gadgets play in people’s lives.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Apple hopped on the bandwagon of a technology product popularised by a competitor.
For instance, Apple initially resisted enlarging the size of iPhone’s screen despite strong sales for larger-display phones made by Samsung and other rivals. But the company relented, and Apple’s larger phones have become hot commodities as more people have embraced having a bigger display to look at pictures and watch video on the devices.
Although Siri would likely be a centrepiece of a smart speaker from Apple, Moorhead said the device’s design, colours and acoustics will also likely be focal points, because the company has a long history of making elegantly designed products.