In a new report, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says Apple is working on a new smart home product: a major evolution of an Apple TV set-top box that integrates a smart speaker and camera hardware. Somewhat similar in concept to the Roku Streambar, the single device would upgrade a user’s living room with a comprehensive multimedia system.
The device would offer the kind of features users would expect from an Apple TV box — like access to video streaming apps and games console — as well as HomePod-esque smart speaker features and a camera for smart home security and living room FaceTime.
Bloomberg warns the device is in early development and may not ever be released as an actual consumer product.
The news follows Apple’s discontinuation of the larger HomePod speaker. Apple customers are also still waiting for a next-generation model of the Apple TV set-top box. The rumor mill currently expects a revision to the Apple TV to arrive sometime this year.
The combination of smart speaker and TV set-top box feels like a natural evolution. Right now, the Apple TV requires the user to hold down the mic button on the remote to talk to Siri. It would be much more elegant if the Apple TV was simply always listening.
Apple’s competitors have already released products of this ilk. As well as the aforementioned Roku Streambar, Amazon sells the Fire TV Cube which is both a streaming box and Alexa smart speaker, and features far-field mics that allow a user to control it from across the room with their voice.
Expanding on Bloomberg’s reference in March that Apple was working on speaker hardware with displays, today’s report also says that Apple is considering a smart speaker product with a touch screen.
Such a device would combine an iPad with a HomePod speaker and also include a camera for video chat. Apple has explored connecting the iPad to the speaker with a robotic arm that can move to follow a user around a room, similar to Amazon’s latest Echo Show gadget.
The $349 HomePod was simply too expensive for most consumers to consider. The $99 HomePod mini appears to have been well received, in large part due to its sub-$100 price point. It fares well against the likes of the low-end Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini. However, both Amazon and Google also offer smart speakers that include displays for visual UI. In comparison, the Amazon Echo Show is sold around $250.
Both the combo TV box/speaker and the touch-screen HomePod sound like they are a far way off, and not likely to be launched within the next year.
In the near term, Apple users can anticipate the release of a new Apple TV featuring an upgraded processor and new remote. Apple is expected to announce the new Apple TV before the end of 2021, probably in the fall.
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