Mark Gurman and Alex Webb reporting:
The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said.
The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren’t yet public.
The question has never been if Apple would put an Alexa competitor into the world, but when would they launch and how effective would it be compared to Google and Amazon's devices. Apple's new speakers are rumored to have some kind of virtual surround sound that are louder and more accurate than Google Home or Alexa, but the real selling point will be how much improved will Siri be when the product ships.
As much as I love the Amazon Echo that my wife and I use everyday, there is definitely still room for improvement when it comes to virtual assistants. Right now these boxes are not very good when it comes to understanding what people are saying to them. You can definitely use them to add events to calendars, make a grocery list, set a timer or play music, but they are typically only good at doing one of these things at a time. You can't really speak freely to these machines yet, there's a certain way you have to talk to them to get things done. This could be a scenario in which Apple enters a product space and delivers a leap frog device, much in the same way they did with the iPhone almost ten years ago now.
I write about AI assistants often because they are really amazing to use, not to mention the fact that most of the big tech companies are throwing the majority of their R&D teams at them. There's a lot for Apple to gain by getting one of these products into the wild. They already have a music streaming service that would benefit from a quality home speaker, and a first party messenger/video chat service that is basically what Amazon is trying to copy with their new Echo Show. They also have the benefit of seeing what all of these AI assistants have been good and bad at, and how they could make a product that surpasses what's already on the market.
With WWDC just a week away, we will hopefully not have to wait a long time to see what Apple has been making behind the scenes.