Samsung’s announcement of its new upcoming Bixby personal assistant for its Galaxy S8 has once again started the chatter about Siri vs Alexa vs Google Assistant vs Bixby. If you were to read the latest comparisons, you might get the impression Siri is a bit behind the other guys, mainly because Amazon Echo is doing well as the first real standalone speaker product for a personal assistant, and Google Home is following closely behind with its new ‘Assistant’. But with what’s rumored to be in store for iPhone 8 from good sources, I think Siri and Apple’s standalone Siri speaker product will have some big advantages.
An always-on, Wi-Fi connected Siri speaker in your home could be the next major step we see for Apple’s assistant this year. The latest reports claim the secretive Siri speaker product is far along enough to be in prototype testing after a couple of years of development and will likely debut this year. It sounds similar to connected speaker products already on the market, but Apple’s big advantage is Siri.
And Siri’s first big advantage versus Amazon Echo and Google Home: Multi-language support.
It already supports a long list of languages and region-specific accents and data, something Amazon and Google are way behind on. How behind? Alexa speaks English and German with varying support for features, Google Home/Assistant speaks only English. Siri, on the other hand, speaks over 20 languages with localized accents for many and support for all the big markets including English, French, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and many more.
It also already has a quickly growing ecosystem of home automation products through the HomeKit platform— homebuilders in the US and UK are now preinstalling HomeKit accessories— and controlling those kind of products will undeniably be a big part of these always-on personal assistant speaker products.
Apple has expanded with support for new types of accessories and features each year at WWDC, and I’d expect this year will be the same. It’s already a step ahead of the competition with HomeKit, and that will make for a ton of possibilities at launch for a Siri speaker.
Apple is also said to be working on facial recognition features for the Siri speaker, according to recent reports from Bloomberg and others, which means it could have a camera and that would allow for many features the current assistant speakers don’t have.
If a camera and facial recognition do indeed show up in a Siri speaker, that could also mean built-in HomeKit security camera features and other HomeKit functionality, for example, intelligent multi-user support.
The ability to recognize who is in a room and or talking seem like natural possibilities, but a tie-in to Apple’s work with augmented reality is another…
AR/Camera features – Facial recognition – Apple TV
A camera and facial recognition sound like huge differentiators for the in-development Siri speaker versus the competition. It could mean Apple’s Siri speaker could be truly context aware, versus just voice-activated.
A number of reports claim Apple is working on 3D sensing and augmented reality tech for the next-generation of iPhones. Most of those reports seem to indicate Apple will first debut the tech by way of some sort of facial recognition camera applications for the iPhone 8.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine that Apple’s facial recognition tech for iPhone 8 might be similar or even tie-in to Siri speaker functionality in some way. And with a camera attached to an always on Siri speaker with facial recognition in your living room, perhaps also connected to an Apple TV, a whole new category of app possibilities will emerge. Apple TV apps could tap into the Siri speaker’s camera, for example, giving Apple TV apps a camera for things like video chat, security, gaming and AR applications.
A recent concept (pictured above and below) imagined how Apple could use Siri for its augmented reality camera experience with the new iPhones. But it’s not just a concept. With all the recent reports, it’s looking like AR is going to be a big part of the next iPhones, so we know it’s likely on Apple’s radar for a Siri speaker too.
Last year’s Siri updates were notable. Siri debuted on the Mac for the first time, and it finally gained the ability to integrate with third-party apps with a Siri SDK. So far the app support is limited to a handful of categories like messaging, payments, VoIP calling, and ride booking. However, expanded SDK support to include functionality for any kind of app could supercharge Siri with new abilities quickly and often as developers inevitably look for innovative ways to approach integration.
At the very least, a few more app categories for the SDK could get added at WWDC. Especially for third-party music, video and podcast apps could make Siri much more powerful. Either way, SiriKit has already prepared developers well ahead of time, which means lots of apps will already support Siri features by the time a Siri speaker rolls around likely later in the year.
Apple’s Siri Speaker advantage
If you start to imagine a Siri speaker with these features–a camera for facial recognition, 3D sensing and augmented reality, an already robust and quickly growing home automation accessory ecosystem with HomeKit, multi-language support, and Apple TV apps–it’s easy to see Apple’s advantage. With the right timing alongside iPhone 8, these features could make Siri speaker look more like an innovative new product from Apple versus just its answer to the current crop of Amazon Echo and Google Home products.