Apple is working on its answer to Amazon’s Echo, the voice-activated assistant packaged inside a speaker, but it may come in the form of a refreshed Apple TV, rather than a new hardware product, VentureBeat has learned.
The company will build on its enhancements to the Apple TV announced last year, which brought the Siri virtual assistant to the set-top box. A new version of the Apple TV will solve problems with the existing box and remote control, a source familiar with the matter claims.
“They want Apple TV to be just the hub of everything,” the source told VentureBeat.
Earlier this week The Information reported on plans to build “an Amazon Echo-like device with a speaker and microphone.” Our source, however, says the device will be the Apple TV.
Apple has considered several options — turning the existing Apple TV into a more comprehensive assistant, making the Apple TV’s Siri Remote the key device, or even building a standalone speaker just like Echo. Ultimately, the third option was dropped, given how much money Apple has spent on the development of Apple TV.
The problem with using the remote as the hub is that it only has a certain amount of battery power — it needs to be charged occasionally with a Lightning cable. The box itself has no microphone, but if it did, fan noise from a nearby device, like a television, could make speech recognition challenging. The Apple TV will eventually get its own microphone and speaker, the source said.
The current box can handle dictation, but processing queries and serving up results requires additional computing infrastructure, and Apple is working on that, the source said.
The Apple TV represents more than just a set-top box that can replace a cable box. Apple wants to own the living room and the connected home in general, the source said. A more powerful Apple TV would be a stronger foundation for new Apple products.
Merging Echo-style hardware with a set-top box is an interesting response to the strategies of Google and Amazon. The former has the Android TV platform and will be releasing Google Home, based on the Google Assistant. The latter has the Fire TV and a growing line of speakers that come with the Alexa voice assistant technology.
As The Information reported, Apple plans to release a Siri software development kit, allowing developers to tie third-party apps into the system while also integrating with Apple’s HomeKit framework, the source said.
The Apple TV dates back to 2007, before the hype around the Internet of Things (IoT) really picked up. Apple has explored using the Apple TV as a smart home hub since around 2012, the source said — two years before the launch of the Amazon Echo.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.