AI voice wars to get Siri-ous: Apple gets set to reveal speaker platform

1 Jun 2017

Can Apple find its voice in the AI-based digital home? Image: Soze Soze/Shutterstock

Amazon and Google are about to face the wrath of Apple in the war for voice-based assistants.

Apple has reportedly begun manufacturing a Siri-based speaker system that will take on Amazon’s Echo and Alphabet’s Google Home speakers.

Having pretty much kick-started the market for voice-based AI with Siri on the iPhone, Apple has had to endure Amazon’s Echo platform taking all the credit for breaking new ground in the home.

Future Human

The Amazon platform interacts with users in the home via their voice with an AI assistant called Alexa, which can give them information but also the ability to order goods online just by speaking.

Google has gotten in on the act with its Home voice-based AI product and, in recent days, Andy Rubin, the so-called father of Android, revealed his new Essential Home device, complete with a screen and Android-based operating system called Ambient OS.

According to Bloomberg, citing sources close to Apple, the California tech giant may be about to reveal its new Siri-based rival to Echo and Home.

Can Siri shout down Alexa?

If you’ve been studying Apple over the past few years, you’ll know that the company has been steadily preparing itself for the internet of things (IoT) universe, revealing platforms such as HomeKit, HealthKit and CarKit.

These platforms laid the plumbing, so to speak, for Apple’s future products and services. Whether the company ever reveals a new car or not, it is intent on being part of the IoT world, and you can consider devices such as the Apple Watch an early foray into future connected health devices.

The idea of a voice-based Siri platform for the home that complements Apple’s Home platform, as well as services such as Apple Music, is tantalising.

It is understood that the device that will debut at WWDC, but will differ from Echo and Home by offering virtual surround-sound technology as well as deep integration with Apple’s products and services.

Even if the device is unveiled at the conference, it is not expected to ship until later this year, possibly coinciding with the traditional launch of the next iPhone in September.

Services revenues are critical to Apple, accounting for about $24bn last year, and this is set to double by 2020.

Apple is already preparing itself for an IoT world powered by an invisible interface, where services and information can be gleaned by gesture and voice, as can be first be glimpsed in the company’s AirPod wireless headphones.

Apple employees are understood to have been testing the device in their homes for the last few months, and Inventec Corporation – the Taipei-based company that makes the AirPod headphones – is preparing to manufacture the forthcoming voice-based AI system for the home.

The AI wars are about to get very interesting.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years