Years ago, it was rumored that Apple was working on an own-brand wireless speaker that would compete with the likes of Sonos. This emerging breed of high-quality wireless speaker was growing in popularity in households across the United States and the rest of the world, and industry watchers saw it as a good opportunity to open up a new revenue stream (small though it may be, in comparison to the iPhone). Apple’s wireless speaker never materialized, but the company ended up acquiring Beats in 2014, so it now has several Bluetooth speakers in its arsenal.
Fast-forward to 2017, and there are now new rumors that Apple is once again working on its own wireless speaker. This time around, however, Apple is said to be hopping on a different trend. Rather than setting its sights on Sonos, Apple is reportedly prepping an Amazon Echo rival that will give users access to Siri in addition to letting them stream music to a high-quality speaker. But considering the rest of Apple’s product line, does the company really need a smart speaker?
People really like smart speakers right now. I mean really, really like them. Head to this page and look at the 54,500+ customer reviews of the Amazon Echo, which is Amazon’s first and most critically acclaimed smart speaker. Can you think of any other product on Amazon that has a 4.4-star rating with more than 10,000 customer reviews, let alone nearly 55,000? The smaller and more affordable Echo Dot has an equally impressive rating with more than 25,000 customer reviews.
In addition to Amazon’s line of Alexa-enabled smart speakers, Google recently launched its own version called Google Home. Like the Echo, Google Home exists as a means of giving users quick access to Google’s own voice-powered virtual personal assistant, Google Assistant.
Alexa and Google Assistant were both introduced to compete with the virtual assistant that started it all: Siri. First launched in late 2011, Siri ushered in an exciting new wave of voice-controlled assistant products that can answer our questions, give us information we need based on personal data, and even control our connected smart gadgets.
Siri seems to have as many critics as it does fans at this point, but there’s no arguing that it’s a very useful product for tens of millions of iOS device owners. And now, it appears as though Apple is about to give Siri a new vessel that will be announced next month at the annual WWDC conference. According to a source with a very good track record, Apple is about to debut a new Siri speaker. To me, this is a curious move.
For Amazon, Alexa speakers make perfect sense. The company’s dreams of becoming a smartphone giant were dashed when its Fire phone quickly became a spectacular flop. Amazon has healthy tablet and eReader businesses, but those aren’t devices people carry around with them at home. By releasing a line of speakers, Amazon ensures that its customers can always order the products they need from its online store the moment anything comes to mind.
Where Apple is concerned, however, this is a curious move. Apart from the fact that even the most successful smart speaker line would barely move the needle for such a massively profitable company, Apple’s customers already have access to Siri anywhere and everywhere they might be.
Siri already lives in Apple customers’ pockets on the iPhone, on their wrists in the Apple Watch, in their living rooms on the iPad, and on their desks in every modern Mac computer. Users can also enable Apple’s “Hey Siri” feature for hands-free activation, which is really the only other benefit of smart speakers like the Echo and Google Home. So why bother with a dedicated speaker when Siri is already so accessible.
The worst possible explanation is “because.” Apple may indeed be planning a Siri speaker just to jump on the bandwagon, which would be very un-Appley. Another, more likely possibility is that the Siri speaker will be a defensive move. Apple might not need a smart speaker in its lineup per se, but releasing such a product would potentially keep rival assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant out of Apple customers’ homes.
In either case, a Siri speaker seems entirely unnecessary from a functionality standpoint. Anywhere a user might place such a device, he or she would already have instant access to Siri on an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, or Mac.