Report: Apple Now Testing Prototypes of Siri-Enabled Smart Home Hub

Back in May, a report surfaced which claimed that Apple was working on an Amazon Echo-like device that was powered by Siri and controlled using your voice to access information on the internet like the weather, play music, control other smart home accessories, and more. Now, a new report by Bloomberg claims the same thing, however this article says that Apple has begun testing prototype units of their Echo competitor in the homes of their engineers, at least according to one person who gave the publication this info.

Now that the device has entered the prototype stage, Apple engineers have begun secretly testing it in their homes, one of the people said.

Bloomberg also notes that while there’s no time-table given by this information, sources also claim that Tim Cook tested the iPad in his home for 6 months before it was released to market, while the fourth-generation Apple TV was tested by employees roughly a year before it made its way to the public. This could indicate that we’re around a year (give or take) away from Apple’s smart home hub. However, like I said before, we can’t rule out a possible time-table given this information, so take it with a grain of salt.

While not an indicator of the speaker’s launch timeline, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has said he tested the iPad at home for roughly six months before its introduction. By contrast, Apple employees began testing the latest Apple TV with Siri about a year before it went on sale, one of the people said.

According to Bloomberg, this project was launched two years ago and has been in development ever since. However, just now is when Apple has begun ramping up the process of creating an Echo-type device for your home as they intend to push the product out to the market in a timely fashion. But of course, as is with every upcoming Apple product, it could still be totally axed out.

Started more than two years ago, the project has exited the research and development lab and is now in prototype testing, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced Apple projects. Like Amazon Inc.’s Echo, the device is designed to control appliances, locks, lights and curtains via voice activation, the people said. Apple hasn’t finalized plans for the device and could still scrap the project.

At this time, it seems rather unlikely for Apple to cancel their smart home hub project that’s been in development for two years as competitors like Google are currently working on their own smart hub which will no doubt be very similar to Apple’s upcoming offering. Bloomberg notes that if the Cupertino company’s smart home assistant does make its way to market, it will be one of Apple’s biggest products ever.

If a product reaches the market, it would be Apple’s most significant piece of new hardware since the company announced the Apple Watch in 2014. Echo has been a surprise hit, even to Apple engineers working on their competing project, and is already being baked into smart-home systems made by a range of companies. Meanwhile, Alphabet Inc. is working on its own device, Google Home. Besides taking on the competition, Apple is looking for a new hot seller to augment the iPhone.

Since they acquired two different facial recognition companies, Apple, according to Bloomberg, plans on adding some unique functionality to their smart home hub no one else has like emotion detection (no that’s not a mistype). Of course, none of this is confirmed, but it’s nevertheless pretty interesting.

The company is attempting to differentiate itself from Echo and Google Home with more advanced microphone and speaker technology, two people said. Some of the prototypes in testing include facial recognition sensors, another person said. Apple has acquired the facial recognition startups Faceshift and Emotient over the past two years, which may help the device act based on who is in a room or a person’s emotional state.

In addition, here’s how Bloomberg describes the functionality they think will be loaded into Apple’s Siri-powered home assistant.

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.

Apple’s original idea of a smart home hub with all its features and capabilities was, according to Bloomberg, originally going to be built into the Apple TV. However, Cupertino seemed to have changed their minds and instead opted for just Siri access.

Before setting its sights on a standalone speaker, Apple attempted to integrate the functionality of an Amazon Echo-like device into the Apple TV, three people said. This would have allowed users to shout commands from the couch to the TV box. Those efforts were abandoned in favor of putting the voice-command features into a remote control when the latest set-top box shipped in October 2015.

Even though it would’ve probably been pretty cool to talk to your TV and get everything done like you would on the Amazon Echo, I can see why Apple didn’t opt in for this method of use: not everyone has a TV. Therefore, if the company builds an entirely separate piece of hardware that doesn’t require any additional connections to third-part devices, more users could be reached. Smart.

While none of this information is confirmed as an Apple spokesperson declined to comment, at this point we should begin to expect a Siri-controlled smart home hub built by Apple at some point in the near future. With the smart home market expanding rapidly, many companies will be jumping on the bandwagon with smart home accessories that’ll likely sell well. I’ve said it before, but if Apple wants to stay in the game, they better make their way into this area of technology. Otherwise, Amazon will likely dominate for some period of time until the smart home dies off (as if that’ll ever happen).