Apple’s Siri-powered Amazon Echo-like device reportedly now in prototype testing

“Apple Inc. is pressing ahead with the development of an Echo-like smart-home device based on the Siri voice assistant, according to people familiar with the matter,” Mark Gurman and Ian King report for Bloomberg. “Started more than two years ago, the project has exited the research and development lab and is now in prototype testing, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced Apple projects. Like Amazon Inc.’s Echo, the device is designed to control appliances, locks, lights and curtains via voice activation, the people said.”

“If a product reaches the market, it would be Apple’s most significant piece of new hardware since the company announced the Apple Watch in 2014,” Gurman and King report. “Echo has been a surprise hit, even to Apple engineers working on their competing project, and is already being baked into smart-home systems made by a range of companies.”

“The company is attempting to differentiate itself from Echo and Google Home with more advanced microphone and speaker technology, two people said. Some of the prototypes in testing include facial recognition sensors, another person said,” Gurman and King report. “Apple began showing its interest in the smart-home field with the launch of HomeKit in 2014, which allows third-party smart-home accessory makers to integrate with Siri. That same year, Apple began testing early versions of Siri-driven speakers with proprietary surround sound technology. The company worked on two versions, a larger and a smaller model similar to Amazon’s current line-up, and even set up a small home theater to test prototypes.”

MacDailyNews Note: Amazon released the Echo on November 6, 2014.

Amazon recently introduced a smaller version of its Echo, the Echo Dot for $49.99. It is meant to be placed throughout the home. Via the code DOT6PACK , Amazon sells six units for the price of five or, with DOT12PACK, 12 for the price of ten. The flagship Amazon Echo costs $179.99.

“Beyond the home device, Apple is researching new ways to improve Siri on iPhones and iPads, two people said,” Gurman and King report. “With an initiative code-named ‘Invisible Hand,’ Apple hopes to give users the ability to fully control their devices through a Siri command system within three years, one of the people added. ”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s Echo echo.

As we wrote in March:

Something along the lines of Amazon Echo is what Apple should have done if run by competent, forward-thinking management. When Apple finally does do their version of Amazon Echo (and they will get around to doing such a product eventually) they will rightly be called a follower. The company had all of the ingredients to make their own Echo, before Amazon, except for the vision, it seems.

And, as we wrote on June 15th:

There could be a psychological component to this that leads people use Alexa over Siri precisely because they know the Echo is there (it’s a physical object), but forget about Siri being everywhere, even on their wrists (because Siri is embedded inside devices that are “for other things” in the user’s mind (telling time, watching TV, computing, phone calls, etc.) and therefore “hidden” to the user. Hence, Siri gets forgotten and goes unused while people use Alexa…

Again: We believe people use Alexa because Amazon Echo is a physical manifestation of “her,” while forgetting about Siri even though she’s on their wrists at all times and/or in their iPhones and iPads because Siri is hidden inside objects whose primary function is something other than “personal assistant” in people’s minds (watch, TV, phone or tablet, as opposed to “Siri.”) Alexa is present thanks to the Amazon Echo. Siri is absent because she has no such counterpart; no physical manifestation.

Siri is a ghost. Alexa is that cool, fun, glowing tube right there on the counter.

Apple would do well to not discount the psychology behind why people use certain features, even though cold, hard logic tells them it’s a redundant and unnecessary product.

An “Apple Echo” device would sell in the millions of units per quarter and boost Siri usage immensely.

Why an ‘Apple Echo’ would be a hit – June 15, 2016
New Apple TV to take on Amazon’s Echo, source says – May 26, 2016
Apple preps Amazon Echo rival, opening up Siri – May 24, 2016
Apple should make a stationary voice command device like Amazon’s Echo – May 19, 2016
Google unveils its Amazon Echo knockoff called ‘Google Home’ – May 18, 2016
Where’s Apple’s answer to Amazon Echo? – March 31, 2016
Amazon Echo leads mindshare in smart home platform war – February 29, 2016


    1. I agree with your take on Apple TV. As for the rest, with
      exceptions for elderly and disabled of course, are we
      that lazy that we can’t get up and turn on the light switch?

    2. While I agree that building the capability into the AppleTV would be efficient, I see that device being stuck in a cabinet or blocked on one or more sides near the TV. Alexa on the other hand seems more comfortable being placed anywhere convenient including the coffee table, bedstand or kitchen counter.

    3. When the new AppleTV was announced I naively thought it was That product, after all for the best part of 2 years the media was full of speculation that ATV would do precisely that, especially in relation to HomeKit when that was launched. How the hell could the internal powers that be not see the logic of that, especially when such speculation was already giving them a leg up on the subject. I guess they didn’t want to obscure the TV focus of the device so they could add it later in another ‘launch’ as Apple so limes to do. Big mistake in this case as the TV experience was not as ground breaking, or indeed finished as expected, despite such a long development. The impression is that Apple sat back thinking it could wait.

      One presumes there was a certain complacency and expectation that no one would beat them to it in any meaningful way before they eventually developed their own tech to that point, that suited them in regards to performance and timing. It really does frustrate me when they lose urgency and focus like that. The same has happened with the hybrid tablet/laptop products. In both cases they will now either ignore the category or look like late followers when they had all the ingredients to be leading the field. Marketing has taken precedent over vision and common sense and in particular as MDN says that understanding of how people operate, rather than the way they should operate. That is the area where they used to keep that right balance between those alternate views under SJ, or alternatively he imposed a clear strategy to make them see the Apple logic to encourage buyers to change their ways. Yes they may have been (partly) the magical distortion field at play but eventually the user got it, adapted and gained access to a better world. They now seem to simply think that happens automatically however. But worse still in this case they had a product in AppleTV that should have been that very physical Siri product that Echo now is. Very short sighted.

    1. Don’t really want it, don’t really (think I) need it, but mostly I am bothered by a device that can/will transmit info without discernment, or regulation. Remember the scorn Samsung received for their TVs w/ the same “feature?” Besides security/privacy, it can be seen as another step towards humans divorced from the banal/pedestrian as if we are too entitled, unable or lazy.

      1. It could also be seen as reactionary, reaching back to a past class system where privileged families employed lower-class familiars as resident butlers, footmen, maids, and cooks. Indications are mounting that an unregulated expansion of A.I. personal agents could achieve exactly this type of income differentiation, with the technology owners controlling most of the world’s resources and an indolent middle class trapped in a kind of consumer serfdom, with a permanent lower class living in cardboard boxes. I expect a revival of Charles Dickens novels.

  1. Personally I don’t like the idea of a device listening the whole time, especially from Google and Amazon. The implementation Apple has done with Siri on the iPhone is good since it is non-intrusive and I trust Apple to maintain my privacy.
    As most things, the first versions are usually not very useful. Apple have an uncanny ability to look at new products and reinvent them to be actually useful.
    At this point, the only useful part is home automation. That’s still in its infancy. Saying that iOS10 Home app has improved the reliability of my ConnectSense outlets and they appear to work most of the time now. Still not perfect but a step in the right direction.

    1. No proof one way or another that when Hey Siri is turned on, your devices are not also listening to everything else. It is a convenience feature, turn it off on your devices from any maker if you feel unsafe.

  2. If you don’t have extensive home automation these sort of devices are rather limited, especially one you consider that existing devices such as phones, tablets, and watches have voice operation. Surely all Apple TV would need to replicate this is the facility to receive voice input (beyond physically using the remote) and you’re then into the realms of always being monitored and privacy implications. If houses have iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Macs, and Apple TV you’re likely to have pretty good access and coverage already, it’s then just a case of one of those acting as a hub, decent software, and possibly additional microphones. Not sure why they need an additional device.

  3. As I wrote a number of hours ago on the T-mobile ending the free iPhone 7 thread, because of unlimited LTE, and an unlimited LTE hotspot people no longer need DSL or cable supported wifi. This type of wifi is becoming like a landline phone or horse and buggy to me now. It is unnecessary going forward.

    Since traditional wifi is no longer needed, hopefully this new type of “answering machine”/home hub will have a wireless hotspot built-in that comes with a very inexpensive service – like under $10 a month. My phone hotspot is only going to be used for on-demand activities like watching content on the Apple TV, and it would beneficial to use home automation when mobile.

    I can’t be the only one that sees the eventual death of DSL, cable, coffee house, etc. based wifi. With more people consuming content on their smart, old school wifi is becoming redundant.

    1. Perhaps, Need Hotspot, but I think that you are jumping ahead a bit too quickly. DSL seems to be quickly dying off in places where higher speed cable internet service is available. And wireless is a great alternative for reaching rural areas without having to lay down miles of cable. But cable/fiber internet will be around for a long time, even as cellular data services continue to improve in reliability and speed.

      Wireless cannot compete with the bandwidth of coax or, especially, fiber optic transmission. So I believe that cable internet will continue to exist for a long time to come, and that a combination of wired and wireless is the best compromise. I have cable internet service to my house and I distribute it via WiFi. Nothing is directly plugged in via ethernet except my router and my Ooma telephone base station.

      That said, I have no problems at all with devices connecting directly to cellular data services. In fact, I have long advocated incorporating cellular data connections in MacBooks.

  4. IF they make a device like this they will need to completely re-invent Siri from the ground up. Otherwise it’s doomed to become the biggest, high profile failure in Apple’s history way beyond the hockey puck mouse, e-world, geo-port, Lisa, Apple camera, and a few others. Siri is wonderful for sports scores and not much else. As a Apple shareholder I’m begging them not to do this. It has the potential to truly ruin their reputation well ahead of any kind of world beating edge to edge display iPhone 8.

  5. Cook : Skating to where Amazon moved the puck on home spying.

    Why on earth is Cook so prone to chase bad ideas? Under his lack of leadership, most new developments have been derivatives of prior Apple gear or complete knock-offs of other company’s innovations. Apple is now a Follower. It’s not that everything Apple does is poorly implemented, it’s that Apple is late to the party every time Cook finally decides which way to steer the increasingly bloated Apple ocean liner:

    2015 MacBook –> chasing Google netbooks
    iOS10 iMessage –> chasing Snapchat and Instagram
    Apple Music –> chasing Pandora and Spotify
    Apple Watch –> chasing Samsung Galaxy Watches
    iPhone Plus –> chasing large format Android phones
    Apple Pay –> chasing Google Pay
    Apple iWork –> chasing Google Apps / Office 365
    Apple iCloud Drive –> chasing DropBox
    Apple TV –> chasing Roku and Amazon Fire
    Apple Project Titan –> chasing Tesla
    Apple VR Project –> chasing Occulus
    Mac computers –> too old to chase anyone

    Can anyone name an area where Cook is willing to lead Apple **ahead** of the competition? Oh, yeah — cylindrical Mac Pro with zero internal expansion, a complete sales flop. iPhone 7, with removal of headphone jack to light up Beats sales, which in the end will mostly push people to buy another bunch of stupid adapters. Mature product, just evolutionary move there.

    When it comes to new product development, Cook is one of the weakest innovators Apple has had — even less ambitious than Sculley. I wonder what Apple will come up with to chase Pokemon Go.

    1. I think there’s a lot of merit to what you say. Waiting for competitive, appropriately priced new Macs has been horribly painful.

      To add to your long list: Apple Maps to this day has inferior features and performance compared to Google Maps, or Mapquest, or Here, or TomTom, …

      A company with this many resources ought to be able to make class-leading products. But Cook seems content to just serve the entertainment needs of hipsters, while ignoring the high performance ends of the market.

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