Apple’s work on a standalone speaker which will house another iteration of its Siri smart assistant might be further in development than first assumed, and might even be in the product testing phase.

The device is very much being seen as a competitor to Amazon Echo, which contains its own virtual assistant, Alexa. The idea that Apple was working on a similar speaker, as was Google, was largely seen as a response to Amazon’s well-received smart speaker. However, according to a report in Bloomberg, Apple’s speaker might have been in development since before the Echo – starting more than two years ago, the report says the project has been through the research and development stage and now has a prototype ready for testing.

Amazon's speaker with built-in virtual assistant has proved a surprise success

Amazon’s speaker with built-in virtual assistant has proved a surprise success

Citing unidentified sources at Apple, the report goes on to say that the device will control elements of a smart home that would include appliances, locks, lights and curtains using voice commands.

However, it also says “Apple hasn’t finalized plans for the device could still scrap the project.”

Rivals

But if it does go ahead, Apple will be wanting to provide a product that stands out from its rivals. So, what else might it be able to do? According to the article, Apple will work on more advanced microphone and speaker technology in its offering, but far more interestingly, it’ll also include features that won’t (or in Google’s case, unlikely to be) included in competing products, such as facial recognition. This would mean that the device could recognize more than one user or occupant in the home, and respond, or offer different options for interaction accordingly.

The latter is pretty advanced, but also makes sense considering Apple acquired two facial recognition startups in the last two years: Faceshift and Emotient.

Furthermore, if it’s connected between the devices, the speaker could be used to send texts if, say, your device was in another room. There might also be Maps integration which could let users know if they need to leave the house to make a specific appointment from their Calendar.

Apple looks set to integrate Siri into even more products

Apple looks set to integrate Siri into even more products

Despite being a few years behind, the developments here stem from Apple’s interests in the smart home which began in 2014 when it launched HomeKit, a framework that third-party developers and manufacturers could use so devices could be controlled by an iOS device.

“Invisible Hand”

Finally, the report also looks to Apple’s future Siri ambitions, noting that a secret project code-named “Invisible Hand” is aiming to allow users to fully control their iPhone or iPad using Siri without ever having to open an app or reactivating Siri. The timeline for this goal is said to be within three years. As for the speaker itself, now it’s in the prototype stage, it’s being tested by Apple engineers. Based on past products like the iPad or the Apple TV, prototypes often spend any time between 6 months and a year in this stage.