Apple employees have been testing a product designed to rival Amazon’s Echo inside their homes for several months, according to Bloomberg. The company’s “Siri speaker” project has been in the works for some time, but so far Apple has managed to avoid any significant leaks about its features or design. Last September, Bloomberg reported that Apple engineers had begun in-home testing of a prototype device. A public unveiling could come at next month’s WWDC keynote.
It’s unclear whether Apple’s unannounced product will feature a display (like Amazon’s brand new Echo Show) or instead focus just on audio (like the regular, cylindrical Echo speaker or Google Home). But VP Phil Schiller recently emphasized the value of consumer gadgets having a screen.
“The idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations,” Schiller said in an interview with Gadgets 360. He then cited some examples of that value: voice-only assistants can’t show you photos being shared on social media, Schiller said. If you’re asking for directions, you’ll hear them, but can’t see a map. “I think voice assistants are incredibly powerful. Their intelligence is going to grow. They're gonna do more for us, but the role of the screen is gonna remain very important to all of this,” he said.
The smartphone seems ideal for handling most of the tasks mentioned by Schiller, however, whereas the various Echo devices and Google Home are largely marketed as for short interactions, like checking the weather, playing music, or controlling smart home gadgets. “I think that's an interesting discussion about when is each appropriate, and what can they do in our lives,” Schiller said.
Apple will certainly be playing catch-up with Amazon whenever it does launch a product. That said, the company’s executives don’t seem particularly impressed by the current field of products. “My mother used to have a saying that if you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all,” Schiller said.