- Apple is moving full steam ahead with plans for a new, Echo-like smart home hardware device based on Siri, the company's voice assistant technology, according to sources who spoke with Bloomberg.
- The device would have the ability to control smart home appliances and other connected hardware through voice controls, as well as access other applications, such as text messages, social media, and email.
- While the project has exited the R&D stage and entered prototype testing, the report cautions that Apple has not finalized any plans and could still kill the project. Apple chose not to comment on the report.
Apple hasn't released a major hardware product since the Apple Watch. A move into smart home hardware would represent a major push into a new market for the technology company, which hasn't released any truly gamechanging innovations like the iPhone since Steve Jobs passed away in 2011.
Digital personal assistants hold tantalizing possibilities for retail businesses and marketers. If the devices take hold and become popular in-home technologies, they could reshape the way that consumers use other devices, shop, play media, and interact with technology in the home.
Apple's push into digital assistant and smart home technology follows in the wake of Amazon's surprise success with its similar Echo device. The Echo gave owners the ability to play media, access smart home devices, order an Uber, schedule events — and place orders for certain products on Amazon.com. Apple's move to push forward with its own smart home device puts it in direct competition with Amazon and Google, which recently announced plans for its own digital assistant technology.
For Amazon, the Echo has quickly become a powerful sales channel in and of itself: Owners of the Amazon Echo spent around 10% more on Amazon in the six months after they bought the voice-controlled speaker than before they had the device, with purchase frequency growing 6%, according to data from the NPD Group. NPD found that Echo owners conduct about half of their total online spending at Amazon after they buy an Echo. The device is already capable of placing orders for certain items on Amazon, and the device's shopping capabilities are growing as Amazon rolls out new features. Amazon recently launched exclusive deals via the Echo for Prime Day, showing the technology's potential as a sales engine, among other capabilities.
Time will tell if Apple can be as successful with its planned in-home hardware as it was with mobile technology. But if the growing activity around digital assistant technology is any sign, retailers and other businesses will soon need to reckon with a new platform and channel through which they can reach consumers.