Apple's Siri-enabled speaker to rival Amazon Echo and Google Home could just be around the corner, with the ever-reliable KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicting we could see it at WWDC in June. There's just one problem though: Apple, once again, is behind the game.
Echo has been around for two years now, and it's been improving almost by the week. Not only are developers pumping out new skills and abilities, but Amazon is dropping new form factors. Google Home, on the other hand, has been around for about four months and it, too, is getting better with new abilities like multi-user support and, soon, possibly new form factors.
Essential reading: The ultimate guide to Apple HomeKit
So how can Apple muscle its Siri-powered speaker right up alongside Echo and Home? What kind of features and ecosystem abilities does it need to get people to bid adieu to Alexa and Google Assistant? Let's take a look.
Turn up the Beats
Apple just happens to own a company that makes headphones and speakers. Whether or not you enjoy Beats' bass-heavy sound, it's a sound that plenty of people listen to on Beats by Dre headphones and enjoy. While both Google Home and Amazon Echo can play you music, neither claims to be able to play sound on a speaker that can replace your Sonos.
Ming-Chi Kuo and leaker Sonny Dickson report that Apple's speaker will go for a high-end entertainment experience, and there's no immediate way to get a leg up on both Echo and Home than by claiming a superior experience for listening to music. Throw in free Apple Music trials or, well, just the ability to listen to Apple Music on a smart speaker, and Apple instantly has a selling point.
To Continuity and beyond
iPhone. Mac. iPad. Apple Watch. Apple TV. There are a lot of Apple devices out there, and they mostly play well with each other thanks to Continuity and Handoff. When you're doing something on one device, you can quickly transfer over to another and finish it later. All of your music and videos and photos follow you wherever you go, so you don't have to worry about taking the time to transfer essential information.
All of this information needs to carry over to the Siri-powered speaker. If I'm listening to an album on my iPhone or Watch, then I get home, my Siri speaker should be able to quickly carry things forward. If I'm at home and I ask here how long my commute to work is, she should instantly get Apple Maps to recommend me a quicker route on my phone. If I ask her to search the web for something, I want to be able to quickly open my Mac and take it from there.
Plus, there's the ability to actually use two of Apple's most popular services: iMessage and Apple Music. Apple can take advantage of its large ecosystem to quickly create something that seamlessly fits into the rest of your life. Obviously though that will probably mean surrounding yourself with Apple products.
There's a HomeKit for that
Echo and Home can both control smart home products, but neither of them have spent the past couple years publicly building out a smart home platform. Yes, there's Google's Brillo, but that's not up to the level of HomeKit, or even Amazon Echo's list of supported smart home products.
Read this: The best Apple HomeKit compatible products
Apple has been slowly but surely improving HomeKit for a couple years now, and while it's not perfect it's getting better and more seamless. Most recently, Apple introduced a new version of the Home app in iOS 10 that made it easier to use HomeKit. A smart home speaker that can properly tap into the HomeKit platform gives Apple, at the very least, equal footing in the smart home appliance game.
Double down on privacy
Google's business is all serving you the best ads. Amazon wants to sell you things. Apple, on the other hand, is a hardware company. Once it sells you a hunk of expensive aluminum, it's mostly good. Because of that, it can use privacy as a selling point.
Last month, Google began 'experimenting' with serving up ads during the morning briefing, playing a Beauty and the Beast spot that 'reminded' Home users that the movie would be arriving in theaters and that they could buy tickets. The internet, rightly, freaked out a little, and it sparked a discussion around the issue of commercial opportunities in the smart home.
Apple doesn't need to find a way to slip ads into your morning briefing, or serve up shopping recommendations and deals. It can concentrate on other things, and because it does that it means it doesn't have to pay much more attention to your private data and conversations. Apple has a chance to double down on messaging around privacy and encryption that could prove very valuable in the smart home.
All about the apps
Nowadays, when Apple launches a new platform it chooses to leverage the great ecosystem of iPhone apps to jump start its app ecosystem. With the iPad, developers just have to alter their iPhone apps to make good tablet experiences. The same goes for Apple TV and Apple Watch apps. All developers have to do is add some quick functionality and they're good.
If Apple can make it that easy to create apps for the Siri-powered speaker it could quickly build a robust ecosystem for its smart speaker. That, paired with Continuity and Siri's newfound openness on all Apple platforms, could allow Apple to quickly leapfrog both Amazon and Google in the ecosystem wars.
Siri, be better please
Siri has been slowly improving for the past couple years now, but it still feels like it lags behind its competitors, Alexa and Google Assistant. Amazon and Google's assistants can understand context far better than Siri, and Assistant has multi-user support. Siri can't do either of these things.
So, for Apple's Siri-speaker to truly stand toe-to-toe with Amazon Echo and Google Home, Siri needs to gain some major ground. Siri needs to be able to recognize multiple users, which shouldn't be too much of an ask since she can be trained for your voice via the 'Hey Siri' setup on iPhone. More importantly, however, she needs to be able to understand context. If I ask about Tom Cruise's latest movie, and then simply say "what else has he been in?" Siri should understand who I'm talking about.