Monday brings us Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, or WWDC, and it’s usually the start of Apple’s new hardware and software rollouts for the year. Monday is expected to mostly be about iOS 11 and upgrades to Apple hardware, but there is, in fact, some new hardware on the way. Apple, having been first to the voice assistant game with Siri, is hoping to put Google Home and Alexa in their place with a new Siri Speaker.
News of the speaker only started surfacing this year, although Apple is reportedly already manufacturing it for a debut later in 2017. There’s a lot of debate over how it’ll look, including whether or not it’ll include some sort of screen or, like Home and Amazon’s Echo family of devices, be keyed off your voice. Unlike most Apple devices, even the mockup fans aren’t sure what the device’s appearance will be. One thing that’s generally agreed on is that the speaker will feature virtual surround sound for a richer, fuller sound than other devices.
That said, though, there are two things that seem patently obvious: The first is that it’ll be tightly integrated with Apple’s other products, especially the iPhone, Apple Music, and Apple TV. Bloomberg notes Apple will likely treat it like the Apple Watch, where developers are encouraged to add functionality to iPhone apps to incorporate the speaker, instead of coding entirely new apps. That will likely give it a leg up on Google and Amazon since Apple fans can more easily work it into their lives.
And it will probably be the beginning of Apple’s attempt to work itself into the internet of things. Apple has been making careful steps, mostly developing its software tool suite HomeKit for third-party hardware. The speaker will be a bigger step, much like other devices can turn on your lights, tweak your thermostat, and so on. Whether Apple will be content with working with third-party smart home tools, or whether Apple is about to start trying to engineer lightbulbs, thermostats, and other smart home products remains to be seen.
The main question is whether Apple can play catch-up, here. Amazon has had Echoes on the market for nearly three years at this point, and Google Home will likely have almost a year on the market before Siri shows up. Similarly, Apple will need to demonstrate that they’ve got something the others lack. App integration is nice, of course, but if you’re not already invested in the Apple ecosystem, it’s not much of a selling point. We’ll see on Monday, when the Siri speaker will likely be announced.