Siri Speaker Apple home hub rumor roundup: Everything you need to know!

Siri controlling HomeKit accessories on tvOS 10
Siri controlling HomeKit accessories on tvOS 10

May 31, 2017: Siri Speaker could be 'one more thing' at WWDC 2017

Apple could have the Siri Speaker, or whatever the company calls its home hub, ready to show off as soon as the WWDC 2017 keynote on June 5, 2017.

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, writing for Bloomberg:

The iPhone-maker has started manufacturing a long-in-the-works Siri-controlled smart speaker, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple could debut the speaker as soon as its annual developer conference in June, but the device will not be ready to ship until later in the year, the people said.The device will differ from Inc.'s Echo and Alphabet Inc.'s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple's product lineup, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss products that aren't yet public.

Apple can offer differentiated experiences through hardware, software, and services. AirPods is a great example of this, as it combines the W1 wireless chipset, sensors, iOS and macOS pairing, and Siri voice control, into one cutting-edge product.

Better sound, especially surround sound, would be a good way to differentiate Siri Speaker hardware from Amazon and Google hubs. A new SiriKit, HomeKit, and more would be good ways to round out the software and services.

We'll find out just how ready Apple is with its new home hub next week.


May 6, 2017: Phil Schiller on why screens make for better voice assistants

While on tour meeting with app developers worldwide, Apple's senior vice president of marketing spoke about Echo and Echo-style home hubs with Gadgets 360:

First of all, there is a lot of talk in the industry about voice-driven assistants and we believe deeply in voice-driven assistants that's why invest in Siri, but there is interest in a voice-only assistant, where there is no screen, and we think it's important to that there are times when it's convenient to simply use your voice when you are not able to use the screen. For example, if you're driving [and] you want Siri to work for you without having to look at the screen, that's the best thing. Or maybe you're across the room, and you want to ask Siri to change the song you were listening to - you don't have to walk over and back [and you can use Siri instead].So there's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations. For example if I'm looking for directions and I'm using Maps, Siri can tell me those directions by voice and that's really convenient but it's even better if I can see that map, and I can see what turns are coming up, and I can see where there is congestion, I understand better my route, and what I'm going to do.

Apple spends a lot of time working on the interactivity models for Siri, and how much affordance and verbosity needs to be given when users can see the screen compared to when their eyes need to be on the road or elsewhere.

CarPlay, for example, weighs differently than Siri when activated by button press, which weighs differently than Siri when activated by voice prompt from, potentially, across the room.

With rumors of Amazon making a version of Echo with a screen, Apple's views on how best to supplement voice response neither confirm nor rule out a home hub protect. But they do help set expectations.

May 1, 2017: Six to five and pick'em we'll see the Apple Home hub at WWDC 2017

Financial analysts and supply-chain stalwart Ming Chi-Kuo thinks we could see the Apple Home Hub get introduced as soon as WWDC 2017, scheduled for June in San Jose.

MacRumors shares the note:

"We believe there is an over 50% chance that Apple will announce its first home AI product at WWDC in June and start selling in 2H17 in order to compete with the new Amazon Echo models to be launched in 2H17."Kuo believes Apple's Amazon Echo and Google Home competitor will have "excellent acoustics performance" with one woofer and seven tweeters, and computing power similar to iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s. He believes the smart home product will likely be positioned for the high-end market, costing more than the Amazon Echo.

A WWDC announcement could make sense if there are substantial updates to SiriKit and HomeKit, Apple's voice assistant and home automation frameworks. Similar to iPad being announced in January of 2010, several months before shipping, it would give developers time to prepare apps and experiences, so the device launch is more compelling than a simple extension of existing services.

Of course, 50/50 odds are usually the type only weather people and gamblers can get away with. So, believe nothing until Apple actually shows it off on stage.

April 27, 2017: Apple finalizing designs for home hub

Sonny Dickson, who made his name leaking iPhone prototypes from the Chinese supply lines, tweeted that the Apple home hub is nearing final design:

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Apple TV already has both AirPlay and Siri, as well as HomeKit support, so what differentiates this product from the current Apple TV — or next generation Apple TV 4K supposedly also in the works — is unclear.

September 29, 2016: Apple stepping up plans for smart home hub

Mark Gurman and Ian King, writing for Bloomberg:

Besides serving as a controller for other smart-home devices, the speaker would theoretically be able to process many of the Siri commands available on the iPhone. For example, users may be able to ask the device to read e-mails, send text messages and Tweets, and stream content from Apple Music. Apple has also considered integrating mapping information into the speaker, another person said, potentially allowing the device to notify a user when it's time to leave the house for an appointment.

Here's the challenge, and why I think we haven't seen an Apple home hub ship already: An iPhone is a personal device. So is an iPad, the way it's currently set up. An Apple Home hub, much like an Apple TV, would be a communal device. That's why Apple TV doesn't have many of these features already. Apple obviously has the technology, but there's a big philosophical question they believe needs answering before rolling it out.

More on that below.

Apple Home Hub: What is it and will we ever see it?

Apple Home Hub is a generic name for a connected voice assistant and speaker system rumored to be under development by Apple to compete with the likes of Amazon's Echo and Google's Home.

But, as is typical with Apple, there could be more to the product than just a category-filler.

Apple home hub vs. Amazon Alexa Echo vs. Google Home

From the moment Amazon launched Echo, it's Alexa voice-powered home hub, people have been asking where Apple and Siri were in the living room. The answer, so far, has been Apple TV, but as a very different type of device. When Google launched Google Home, interest in a possible Apple home hub intensified again.

Apple has also had a difference in philosophy. Where Amazon focused exclusively on the living room, initially in one language and one country — English in the U.S. — Apple put Siri on every device, in dozens of countries and over a score of languages. Similarly, Alexa began third party integrations early and quickly where SiriKit is just in its first year and for just a handful of domains.

In other words, Echo kills when you're in your living room in New York. It's useless when you're down the block, across town, or around the world. Conversely, Siri can go with you everywhere, but it's even-odds it'll work at any given time.

An Apple hub, it's hoped, would bring the same level of home experience to Siri that Alexa has enjoyed for years.

Apple home hub as multi-personal assistant

On an iPhone, saying "Hey Siri, read my texts!" results in your texts being read. On an Apple TV or Home hub, saying "Hey Siri, read my texts!" results in whose texts being read... and to whom? Do you get to access to your parents' or children's' data? Your spouses or siblings? Your roommate or host?

Apple TV can already be logged into multiple Apple IDs, but tvOS hasn't made any of them available to Siri or even for messages or mail apps on the device. Because, privacy.

Similar to the path Apple took with Siri apps, where they tried to go deep instead of broad, and ensure domains and intents could handle a robust set of languages and sentence structures, bringing full-on Siri to the Home requires a lot of care and consideration.

That's especially true given Apple's very public, very high-level stance on privacy. Always listening microphones and always watching cameras are amazing for beam forming and target locking, but have profound ramifications for privacy.

As does making Siri truly multi-user.

Voice ID and pass phrases, facial recognition and body analysis, and all sorts of other authentication systems work great in the movies, but in the real-world living room? Apple won't even let Siri on Apple TV unlock your door or open your garage right now because the Siri remote can't authenticate the request the way Touch ID or the heart-rate monitor on iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch can.

More than whether or not Apple will extend Apple TV or AirPort Extreme, or release Apple Speakers or a standalone Apple Home hub, how the company solves for multi-user and privacy is going to be fascinating to watch.

And likely require a whole lot of that Apple "magic".

Apple home hub as iCloud intermediator

macOS server does a variety of amazing things, including automagically caching iCloud backups and software updates for all the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV devices in the household. It could also work with technologies like on-demand resources, pre-fetching them a stage before so they're ready and instantly available exactly when you need them.

Your Apple home hub wish-list?

The best thing about unannounced, potentially never-announced products is that they're wide open. We can imagine them to be anything we want them to be. So, what would you like to see from an Apple home hub?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Hopefully they sort this out quickly. I love my Echo devices but not being able to have multiple accounts stinks. I also hope they have something in the works to sync Photo data. Having to work with the Faces feature on 4 different devices absolutely sucks. Surely they can find a way to sync this data privately.
  • The whole thing hinges on really good voice recognition which means that it'll be processor intensive or have to rely on the cloud. Relying on the cloud would present some privacy issues which Apple is probably working on. A neat solution would be a "home cloud" of sorts (a server, really) like a Mac Mini that runs said recognition software. Not seeing Apple getting into the personal cloud game though....
  • I agree, all this really depends on the next version of Siri not only having better recognition but also having context awareness and a smarter understanding of what was asked and what is being asked next. Some type of offline mode or Siri Server at Home would be great.
  • Options:
    1) Limit what Siri on Apple TV can do. (Not a great solution, but could be a setting to put the decision in the hands of the user)
    2) Only allow personal actions (reading text/email aloud) after verifying that
    a) an iphone, ipad, or apple watch on the same wifi network is signed into the Apple ID of the person whose text/email you're trying to get Siri on Apple TV to read -AND-
    b) the settings on their phone/ipad allows Siri to read text/email when the phone is locked -OR-
    c) pop up a confirmation dialogue on all devices on the same wifi network currently signed into that Apple ID that requires you to hit "accept" and also unlock the device
    ) Honestly, the bigger issue for me is HomeKit. I've setup automation routines, but they won't run unless I'm in the house. I've shared the home with my wife, and she has an iPhone and iPad at home, but the routines won't run unless my iPhone is on the network. That's a pretty big gap, in my opinion. If iPad is supposed to be able to act as a HomeKit hub, they need to improve the usability of routines, and let the arriving/leaving triggers take into account other people with whom you've shared your HomeKit home.
  • From my own testing, HomeKit is able to do automation even when my iPhone/iPad are off. It looks like the AppleTV is able to send commands "autonomously" without an iPad/iPhone connected. Note: My AppleTV is always on.
  • Yes, i doubt Siri would be able to control everything... and sign in to everything as we all would like. Although, it would surly be more convenient.. then needing a keyboard weather real or virtual. I would say on level of privacy, Apple can only say this because Siri goes to Apple servers, and as a result, that basically wanting to do two things at once here.. Keep your stuff login stuff private while being in the cloud. However, we already have that anyway with iCloud drive. usernames/password with iTunes Store, so Apple's reason for not doing this with Siri kinda falls a bit short.. If the reason is anyone shouting in your room would now know the password as well for lack of asking Siri for this, it doesn't really matter, since if someone else is starring at the screen currently they know what u enter anyway. Keyboard is gotten rid of anyway with Siri, and all Apple needs to do is use the same encryption they use for other stuff but on Siri
  • I figured out a way to make Hey Siri work for multiple users. Reason I want to make Hey Siri work with multiple users is for HomeKit reasons so it would work with the iPad I mounted in the kitchen. There are three adults in the house (Me, my wife and my MIL) that I want to have Hey Siri work for. So here's what I did...Turned Siri off and back on to start from scratch. Had my wife say the first phrase, then I said the next and we continued to alternate until we finished the process. Good news is that Hey Siri now works for all three of us. My first attempt I tried to have the three of us alternate but when we finished it wouldn't work for me (they said more phrases). My wife said let's try a male and female voice and see if that works. Well, not sure why but it did work. With that said, I wonder if because they are mother and daughter and if that helps with the recognition since there is likely a similarity in their voices. But in any event, it's working for me now so I'm happy.
  • I think you've got some food stuck in your "Apple home hub as multi-personal assistant"… wait minute… just an unparsed image tag.
  • Simple solution to different accounts - each user has their own phrase for getting Siri's attention - Hey Siri, vs Hi Siri vs Yo Siri. Or each user has their own name for Siri. Hey Siri vs Hey Tiri vs Hey Viri etc.
  • I hope they also give it an excellent iOS interface as some of us don't like talking to devices and the annoyance and distraction to people around caused by unnecessary chatter.
  • Combining the Airport/Time Capsule functionality with a speaker/personal assistant with AirPlay would be amazing. Hard to imagine they release some of those now and other parts later. Put all the necessary hardware in there and then do it at once!
  • Totally agree. This would be the better solution. An WiFi meshed network device with a built on speaker and Siri support. One can only hope.
  • Fix the image under "Apple home hub as multi-personal assistant" subtitle
  • Rene, I have to ask, "why"? Why does Apple NEED to compete with Echo? I've tried Echo and I see the appeal but I do not see how IT could compete in any way with Apple's protection of my privacy. Who needs to do the competing here? The things that make Alexa most fun are the things that Siri can do just as well on my phone or on Apple TV with a little tweaking. Other than proof of coolness experiments, how many people do most of their Amazon shopping with an Echo, seriously? I would wager a very small percentage. But asking Alexa or Siri to read my texts around other people is something I would NEVER do anyway! The idea of a home server (combined with mesh routing and with Siri built in LOCALLY would be a great benefit to those of us who hate the undependable nature of Apple's servers. I have argued since the beginning of Siri, for the return of a true Voice Control ON device (iPhone). Offloading some of that Siri magic to local iPhones or routers or Apple TV could only ease the burden those servers have to bear and would make Siri use MORE reliable, more of the time. But if Apple believes that Siri needs to worry about Alexa, then i believe Apple has should be worried about something much closer to home. Like the fact that it has veered off of its true path, chasing some shallow distraction.
  • Why? May be Apple Music, Podcasts, and iBooks in the shower?
  • I do all of those things already with Siri and a UE Roll, no problem.
  • The point of having a single device for this makes it more practical in a family of four type setting. HomeKit integration could be more well thought out as well. We'll also have to wait and see what this concave top is about. Maybe it docks the iPhone / iPad too?
  • Why? They are for profit company and they need to make products. Especially when iphones are becoming a far greater percentange of revenue creating a vulnerability to one bad product (see samsung s7). Privacy? Alexa competes because though tech blog readers are fixated on all aspects of privacy the average person is not. As for siri doing what echo does just as good I think you're missing what echo really does. It's always listening and you can do all the smart home stuff. Plus it has tons and tons of alexa skills so you can get tv, news, order coffee. The but though apple has a smart home app and homekit stuff. I'm not sure you can just walk through you house (not that i have one) and be like Siri set the thermostat to xyz without having to have a phone around. Also Alexa's openness means it's in lots of things. Plus it has connected speakers so you use spotify and do it all without your phone. I will add I think Alexa has better natural language understanding in my usage. From everything I read Alexa is the leader right now because it's so open.
  • With ¼ of a trillion dollars in the bank Apple doesn't have any serious financial vulnerability right now and doesn’t need to compete with Amazon on any device of parity! They almost make more profit on an iPad for example than the entire cost of an Amazon Kindle Fire HD. I don't miss the point of what the Echo does. I own one. Anyone who has watched Star Trek knows the value of a computer that can respond to ambient commands. But neither Siri nor Alexa live up to those expectations so far. Seriously, as fun as they are, they don’t. My point to Spittt was: people who want a Echo-like Siri device can have that now, without a lot of hassle. The Dot, in fact, was designed to be paired with a separate bluetooth speaker for music listening. How is that really different from my iPhone on the bathroom counter paired to my UE Roll while I’m in the shower? When I call out loud to Siri in any room in my house she listens already. Echo gets as much wrong as Siri in my experience and Siri gets as much right. The multiple microphones on an Echo can account for all of the better natural language experience you have with your Echo. My experience differs from yours, but 6 of 1 and a half dozen of the other. My point is that Apple can afford to wait. Some pundits are making it sound like Apple is going to miss this boat the way Microsoft under Balmer missed the smart phone bonanza. That is absolutely ludicrous. There is no voice assistant in a tube bonanza yet. These are still novelty devices. They certainly would not save Apple from financial collapse if the iPhone failed to bring in money. From the sounds of Rene’s article, Apple hasn’t fully figured out what they want to do with the prototype devices they have built. If you have to justify the need for a device, then it is not yet solving enough real world problems to make it a worthy Apple production. If Siri or HomeKit do not significantly improve on function, putting them in a tube on a living room shelf will not make them suddenly better. BTW, Average people DO care about privacy, they just don't have enough foresight to understand the consequences of blindly loosing it. A single experience of privacy failure can turn them off permanently. We have accidentally triggered our Echo so many times, that it now sits on our shelf unplugged until we want it. Most people do not understand that unlike Siri, Echo is actually “always listening”. More importantly, and something even fewer people understand, is that Echo is also always RECORDING an unknown cache on device. As a married man, I can tell you that my wife and I almost accidentally triggered "Alexa" during an intimate moment one time. That is not a joke. Fortunately I saw the Echo light up and unplugged it. If I had not and if Echo had sent that recorded clip from its servers to the app, and if my wife had heard it. . . need I say more !! I would probably be a desperate man for a month and "Alexa" would be a smashed pile of plastic in the trash can! If you think that privacy doesn’t matter to average people, then you mistaking ignorant bliss for acceptance.
  • I'd love to see a rebirth of the AirPort mixed into this thing as well. I'm looking at Eero and AmpliFi devices now to solve some of my networking woes, but if my mesh access point could also be a voice receiver and a HomeKit hub that would be a much better option than filling all of my end tables and outlets with little glowing boxes.
  • Never in my living space.
  • How long is this keynote going to last? 4 hours? I'm excited for iOS 11, but how can they pack iOS, tvOS, macOS, new iPads, Siri Speaker and other hardware into 2 hours?