Whenever a major tech company patents some type of new technology, reports flood in about how it will kill this product or that product from a competitor. This time, it’s Apple that has had a patent published about a possible “speaker dock”, and the reports are already coming in about a possible Amazon Echo-killer.
What is Apple’s Patent All About?
Essentially, the patent is around a Siri functionality that will allow the smart assistant to pass on a user’s request across several iDevices around the home or the office, and get the right device to execute the task.
As of now, if you have multiple Apple devices around you, all with Siri enabled on them, and you give Siri an instruction, it will lead to conflict between the devices and, often, a duplication of the task by two or more iDevices.
The patent suggests a prioritization system whereby one device is selected as the “first device”, which then passes on the information to the appropriate device in a master-slave fashion.
The Echo-like device assumption is from the fact that there is one device that the patent applicants included in some of the patent diagrams (device #608). This device is not described in any way, but it clearly looks like a speaker. Naturally, the inference is that it is going to be an Echo-like device that can handle voice instructions just like Siri on an Apple Watch or iPhone or other iDevice.
Even if this were true, does the Amazon Echo really have anything to worry about? Our opinion is a strong NO, and for several reasons.
The first reason is that this is merely an assumption drawn from a diagram in a patent that may never see the light of day. Tech companies apply for thousands of patents every year, very few of which actually make it into prototype devices, let alone enter mass production.
Secondly, if Apple did launch such a device, it’s bound to be in very early design stages, even the concept stage, possibly. If that were true, there’s a very, very slim chance that we’d be hearing about it at this point in time. Though Apple’s supply chain is extremely ‘leaky’, the folks at Apple HQ aren’t. There were reports last year about a Siri speaker that was two years in the making and had apparently reached the prototype stage, but we haven’t heard anything since then.
Third, if both arguments fell through and the company is planning on such a device, it would have to be extremely competitive to get past even Google Home in terms of sales, let alone Amazon Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices. Combined sales of Google Home and Amazon Echo line of smart speakers are estimated to hit 24 million units in sales this year alone, according to the 2017 Voice Report from VoiceLabs.
Fourth, the skills on such a device would be very limited, and Apple would have to open it up to thousands of developers to build up a significant body of skills. True, Apple has SiriKit, but it only allows developers to integrate Siri functionality into their iOS apps. That’s not nearly as expansive as what Amazon or Microsoft are doing with Alexa and Cortana, respectively.
Fifth – and this is probably the biggest idea-killer for an Apple smart speaker – Siri neither has the broad access that Amazon Alexa has to voice shopping on Amazon, nor the deep search access that Google Assistant has through Google Search.
Think about it. What’s Siri going to offer you other than the ability to control home appliances, send commands to your car, make restaurant reservations, send messages, make calls and the basic stuff that Alexa and GA already do fairly well?
Even from a value perspective, such a device from Apple would fall far short of what Amazon Echo and Google Home bring to the table. Literally, your coffee table.
On the positive side, if Apple partnered with some high-end audio brand like Microsoft is doing with the Samsung-owned Harman/Kardon, then there’s some additional value in having such a device around your home. Other than that, it’ll pretty much be a ‘trophy gadget’ that you can say you spent that many hundred dollars acquiring.
I know some Apple fans will be seething and fuming by now (or long before now), but that’s the hard truth as we see it. Disagree? You’re welcome to comment below. But play nice, please!
For a full review of the patent, please visit Patently Apple.
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