For Apple, a smart speaker would be a long time coming. Its smart home platform, HomeKit, was announced at WWDC 2014 -- months before the surprise unveiling of the first Amazon Echo. Three years later, we're still waiting for Apple to introduce a voice-control speaker that isn't tied to its mobile software iOS.
Voice-control speakers like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home have gone a long way to help unify our connected devices. Not only is voice control an easy entry point to device control for most family members, standalone speakers also help bring the functionality to the center of the home in a way that Apple's iOS-based HomeKit has not yet managed to do.
You can ask Amazon's Alexa to set a 15-minute kitchen timer, to remind you to give your dog his heart worm pill -- and even to adjust the thermostat. You can use Google's Home to follow along with a recipe or to turn on your favorite Netflix show (with help from Chromecast). Apple's HomeKit can do a lot of the same things through its iOS 10 Home app and Siri, but input is limited to mobile devices, including the Apple Watch. (As of last year's MacOS Sierra update, Siri is on the Mac, too -- but it's far more limited.) Adding a standalone speaker to compete with Amazon and Google could go a long way to making Apple more competitive in the smart home space.
If anything, the delay has helped fuel speculation about Apple's plans. Here's an overview of all of the rumors we've heard in the months leading up to WWDC 2017. (Note that Apple did not immediately respond to our request for comment.)
Is it really happening?
May 31, 2017: Apple has begun production on a smart speaker, according to a Bloomberg report published Wednesday. The article cites "people familiar with the matter," who said the device could be unveiled as early WWDC, but that it won't be available to customers until later this year. The Amazon Echo and Google Home rival will supposedly have surround sound and work with Apple HomeKit products.
An integrated touchscreen?
May 6, 2017: Apple SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller suggested he wasn't impressed with the Amazon or Google speakers in an interview with India's Gadgets 360. "Well, I won't talk to either one specifically, [I] don't want to. My mother used to have a saying that if you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all," Schiller said.
He went on to address the importance of interacting with a screen. "There's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial," he said, "but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations."
Amazon unveiled the $230 Echo Show on May 9, a touchscreen-equipped Alexa device that you can use for video calls or to view live security camera feeds. Google's Home speaker doesn't come with an integrated touchscreen. I personally don't like the idea of having a screen sitting on my coffee table or kitchen counter 24/7. I imagine the next step will be a Alexa-enabled control panel you'd hardwire like the Wink Relay or the Lucis NuBryte Touchpoint.
Apple's speaker likely to debut at WWDC
May 1, 2017: Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said, "We believe there is an over 50 [percent] chance that Apple will announce its first home AI product at WWDC in June," in a MacRumors report. The story also claimed Apple's speaker will cost more than the Amazon Echo and work with AirPlay.
If that price point is correct, Apple's speaker could cost more than any of the models sold today. Here's an overview of the current smart speaker lineup:
- Amazon Echo Show: $230 (available for preorder)
- Amazon Echo Look: $200 (available by invitation)
- Amazon Echo: $180
- Amazon Echo Dot: $50
- Amazon Tap: $130
- Google Home: $130
A built-in camera?
May 27, 2016: CNET reported that Apple's smart speaker might have an integrated camera. According to sources familiar with Apple's plans, the product would be able to recognize who's in a room via facial detection tech. Imagine walking near the device, having it recognize you and then automatically adjust the lights -- or the music to suit your preferences.
Amazon introduced its camera-equipped $200 Echo Look back in April. Rather than being marketed as a security camera, the Echo Look is supposed to act as your very own style consultant. Google's Home doesn't currently have an integrated camera.
May 24, 2016: Talk of a standalone Apple speaker, powered by Siri, was first reported by The Information. The story claims Apple had been discussing a developer-friendly version of Siri for years, before deciding to go ahead with the device. In addition, The Information reported that Apple's upcoming Echo and Home competitor would have a speaker and a microphone that you could use to play music, listen to news headlines -- and even control HomeKit-enabled devices.
Want to know more about Apple's WWDC 2017 event? Follow along with our coverage, starting June 5.