In May, reports surfaced that Apple was working on a Siri-powered speaker similar to Amazon’s Echo. Not much was known at the time, and the ever-tight-lipped company has made no announcements regarding such a product, but it seems that the device may have moved out of the idea phase and into real-world testing at the company, according to a report by Bloomberg.
Apple has reportedly been at work on the project for more than two years at this point, and it has finally moved from research and development into prototype testing, according to Bloomberg’s anonymous sources. The device is still far from finished, and could still end up on the scrap heap, but current functionality is said to be very similar to the Amazon Echo, enabling the user’s voice to control smart home features.
That doesn’t mean the device is a simple clone: Apple is aiming to include more advanced microphone and speaker technology, giving it a leg up on the competition. As previously reported, some of the prototypes also include facial recognition sensors. In addition to all-new functionality, the device is planned to include much of the functionality currently available via Siri on iOS and MacOS.
These prototypes aren’t only being tested in the Apple offices, the sources said. Engineers are testing the prototypes in their homes, which makes sense given the smart home-focused feature set. This is no indication of when or if a product based on these prototypes might go on sale, but in the past, Tim Cook was said to have used the iPad at home for roughly six months before it was announced, while engineers tested the latest tvOS-powered Apple TV in their homes for around a year before it went on sale.
Whether third parties are going to have a presence on this device still remains to be seen. When rumors of its existence first began to bubble up, a more open Siri platform was said to be key. Apple did indeed open Siri up to third-party developers at this year’s WWDC, but use cases are currently fairly limited.
Strangely, Apple’s initial aim for this new device wasn’t for it to be a device at all. Originally, much of this functionality was planned for the Apple TV, before eventually being spun out into a project of its own. This may have remained the case if not for the Echo and similar devices, but a set-top box isn’t a perfect fit for much of these features, so the decision to go for a standalone device makes a fair amount of sense.
As mentioned above, Apple is staying silent with regard to any plans, but the company has been increasing focused on HomeKit, finally giving it home screen prominence in iOS 10, so this very well could be Apple’s next big thing at some point.