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Smart Home

Turn your old iPhone into a Siri smart speaker

Why wait for Apple? Armed with an old iPhone and nearly any speaker, you can create a voice-activated Siri speaker on the cheap.

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You don't need to spend money on an Amazon Echo or whatever Apple's smart speaker turns out to be. Just use an old iPhone and put Siri to work.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Rumor has it Apple will jump on the smart-speaker bandwagon at next month's WWDC, giving the Amazon Echo ($129.99 at Home Depot) and Google Home ($129.00 at Dell Home) some stiff competition.

What would such a device look like? What would it be called? (I'm going to put a marker on iHome, even though there's already a whole brand with that name.) And the big question: What will it cost?

This is Apple we're talking about, so my guess puts it at $199, if not $229. And it probably won't ship until the second half of the year, at least according to industry analysts.

Don't want to wait? Or pay that much? If you've got a spare iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch) lying around, you can easily create your own "Siri speaker" setup. (Sound familiar? It's also possible to turn an old Android phone into a poor-man's Google Home.)

Why this works and what you need

Anyone familiar with Siri knows she already does the whole speak-and-say thing -- just within the confines of your iPhone. Because you can invoke this feature hands-free (by saying, "Hey, Siri"), all you need is a speaker to round out the equation.

Pair an old iPhone with a speaker-stand like this one for a nicely consolidated Siri-speaker surrogate.

Lugulake

Before we talk about the latter, though, let's finish with the brains of the operation. Any modern iDevice can be tasked for this project, so long as it has a reasonably current version of iOS. Although iPhone models older than the 6S must be plugged in for "Hey, Siri" to work when the screen is off, you're going to leave this iPhone plugged in full-time anyway -- so that's a nonissue.

As for the speaker, anything you can connect your phone to is fair game. My recommendation is a simple Bluetooth speaker, though it has to meet one requirement: It needs to stay powered on when plugged in. Some speakers have an auto-off feature, which you don't want here.

You can also take the wired route, plugging one end of a 3.5mm audio cable into your phone and the other into a speaker or even an old stereo. It's one more wire you'll have to look at, but of course a little decor disguising can help with all the wires.

Speaking of which, as I noted above, you'll need to leave your phone plugged in full-time. Same goes for the speaker.

Obviously all this won't provide the same aesthetic as whatever unified product Apple delivers, but functionally it should get reasonably close. And if you want to keep everything as consolidated as possible, consider getting a speaker that's also a stand. For example, the LuguLake Bluetooth speaker and phone stand shown here might prove a good option, if only because it gives your phone a forward-facing place to sit. It's currently priced at $30, £27 in the UK or AU$39 in Australia.

Although you'll have to provide the wall USB plug for the speaker to stay powered, it has a physical on-off switch, so I'm pretty certain it won't automatically shut off after a period of inactivity. (Not positive, though; check with the manufacturer if you want to be sure.)

What to say to your Siri speaker

From there you just need to make sure the "Hey, Siri" option is enabled, which you can do by tapping Settings > Siri and making sure the top three options are toggled on. That way, the iPhone will be listening for -- and responding to -- your commands even when the screen is off.

(What about your current iPhone? Won't it be listening as well? Sure enough, your spoken commands might trigger both phones at the same time. For now, there's no real workaround for this, other than to disable the option on your primary phone -- or just keep it out of earshot of your Siri speaker.)

So what can you do with your new smart speaker? Pretty much anything and everything you can do with your iPhone. For example, you can ask Siri to tell you a joke, check your flight status, give you a weather forecast, play a podcast (if you have Apple's Podcasts app installed) and much more. Here's the complete list of Siri commands to date. You can also control your HomeKit-ready smart home devices, too.

As for music, you can't currently use Siri to activate third-party apps such as Spotify, so if you want to issue verbal commands for songs, playlists and the like, you'll have to rely on your Apple Music library.

That's a fairly major limitation (the DIY Google Home is similar in that respect), so it'll be interesting to see if Apple's standalone smart speaker -- assuming it exists -- overcomes it.

In the meantime, what do you think of creating a home-grown Siri speaker?