Days before Apple’s annual WWDC developer’s conference, news is breaking the company is hard at work on a hub for your home. Dubbed the ‘Siri Speaker,’ Bloomberg reports it will be much like the competition, but with a few tricks up its sleeve.
According to the report, Apple’s hub is already in production. As Patently Apple points out, AirPod manufacturer Inventec is believed to be the sole manufacturer of the Siri Speaker. Apple employees have allegedly been testing the product in their own homes for months.
A differentiator with this incoming tower is “virtual surround sound.” It’s said to be louder than the competition, and Apple may include sensors that measure a room’s acoustics so it can adjust itself automatically. Apple is also reportedly designing the speaker to work tightly with HomeKit, the company’s fledgling connected home platform.
What’s rumored to be missing is a screen. Though Amazon recently launched its Echo Show, all other home hubs are speaker towers with microphones. It seems the Show didn’t cause Apple to have an iPhone moment, much like Google did with Android after the first iPhone launched. That means no FaceTime video calls, and no on-screen notifications.
Unfortunately, that’s all we have to go on. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber points out, Bloomberg’s lack of details may be a result of Tim Cook’s promise to return the company to secrecy ahead of launching new products. For years, Apple product launches have been less exciting as a result of the rumor mill being so active. Aside from ‘virtual surround sound,’ which could just be marketing jargon, there isn’t much hardware news.
A separate story may provide more clues. Apple is reportedly working on an artificial intelligence (A.I.) chip developed in-house. Known as the “Apple Neural Engine,” this chipset would handle things like facial recognition and voice detection. Much like Google’s TensorFlow, this chip may reduce the strain on a SoC or GPU within Apple’s own hardware.
If this chip comes to fruition at WWDC alongside the Siri Speaker, a strong multi-user feature could be another driving factor for consumers. A hub that can identify an individual’s voice would be a great tie-in for the iPhone, which is still considered a personal device by Apple. Two people in a home could have their own iPhones, and ping the hub to tell them what events are on their calendar for the day without switching profiles or identifying themselves by name.
This speaker is believed to arrive at WWDC next week, though that’s dubious. Apple hasn’t announced or launched hardware at its developer’s conference since 2013, typically using the event to discuss new software features for developers. Whatever the case, we’ll know for certain Monday morning when WWDC kicks off in San Jose.