We first heard suggestions that Apple was working on its own equivalent to Amazon’s Echo – an intelligent voice-controlled assistant in a speaker – in the run-up to WWDC back in May. A subsequent report suggested that the device would feature a camera capable of facial-recognition to identify household members and set preferences.
Little more has been heard since then, but a new Bloomberg report says that the product now exists in prototype form and has begun testing outside the lab …
Bloomberg says that work on the product began more than two years ago.
Started more than two years ago, the project has exited the research and development lab and is now in prototype testing, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced Apple projects. Like Amazon Inc.’s Echo, the device is designed to control appliances, locks, lights and curtains via voice activation, the people said. Apple hasn’t finalized plans for the device and could still scrap the project.
The report also corroborates the rumored facial-recognition camera, but says that it may go even further than previous reported.
Apple has acquired the facial recognition startups Faceshift and Emotient over the past two years, which may help the device act based on who is in a room or a person’s emotional state.
It had been reported at one point that Apple was considering building the functionality into the Apple TV, but Bloomberg says that the company decided against this.
Before setting its sights on a standalone speaker, Apple attempted to integrate the functionality of an Amazon Echo-like device into the Apple TV, three people said. This would have allowed users to shout commands from the couch to the TV box. Those efforts were abandoned in favor of putting the voice-command features into a remote control when the latest set-top box shipped in October 2015.
Apple engineers are said to be testing the device in their own homes, an approach the company has taken before. The latest Apple TV with Siri remote was reportedly tested at home for around a year prior to launch, while Tim Cook tested the iPad for about six months before it went on sale.
The initiative is said to form part of an ambitious plan to enable people to fully control all of their Apple devices via Siri within three years directly from within apps, rather than doing so overtly.
Apple’s goal is for Siri to be able to control the entire system without having to open an app or reactivate Siri. For example, a user would be able to ask their iPhone to open a web page and then share it with a friend without the need to ever launch the Siri interface.
Amazon recently added a second, much smaller version of its Echo intelligent speaker, known as the Echo Dot, the idea being that owners would position these throughout their homes. The Dot costs $50, but you can use the code DOT6PACK to buy six for the price of five, or DOT12PACK to get 12 for the price of ten. The full-size Echo costs $180.
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