If Apple wants to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, it doesn’t necessarily need a brand-new product. Instead, why not just slap a more powerful microphone and an onboard speaker into a next-generation Apple TV?
VentureBeat, citing an anonymous source, says that Apple’s rumored Amazon Echo competitor “may” just be a refreshed Apple TV. Besides a mic and speaker, the new box would probably need a more powerful processor if it’s going to process voice queries quickly and accurately.
The fourth-generation Apple TV released six months ago does have limited Siri support and a microphone-equipped remote control. It’s always on, always connected to Wi-Fi or ethernet, and also packs Bluetooth. These are all good starting points into a voice-activated assistant like the Echo or the just-announced Google Home—those products also include a speaker for streaming music from cloud services, and multidirectional microphones designed to pick up “OK Google” or “Hey Alexa” prompts from anywhere in the room.
An Apple TV in every room?
That’s the thing, though—which room? In promotional videos for the Echo and Google Home, those devices are typically shown in a kitchen setting, sometimes in a living room. But the implication is that you’ll have it in the room where everyone gathers, and that’s often the kitchen.
While an always-listening Apple TV with voice assistant would be great in my living room, I don’t have as much of a reason to put one in my kitchen or bedrooms, which don’t currently have TV sets. Sure, I could have them there just for the speaker, but the Apple TV has existed since 2007 as “a thing you connect to a TV,” so it might be a mental leap for people to start buying them for rooms where they don’t intend to watch TV. Apple could potentially solve this with a companion product like Amazon’s Echo Dot, a $90 puck that adds the Alexa assistant from the larger Amazon Echo to existing speakers and stereos.
My current fourth-gen Apple TV sits right next to my television set—an obvious position, since it’s connected with an HDMI cable. So not only would an always-listening Siri be able to hear me from elsewhere in the house, she might have trouble hearing me even in that room, since it’s the de facto playroom for a rowdy toddler, and usually either the TV or stereo is on. When I press the microphone button on the 4th-gen Apple TV’s Siri remote, it brings down the volume of what I’m watching so Siri can listen. But if sound is blaring from other devices (not made by Apple), we might have a problem connecting.
I’ve run into a similar problem testing CarPlay stereos: If the music is pumping, I might have to call out, “Hey Siri,” three or four times before my voice is heard—and that’s when I’m in the driver’s seat, no more than a couple feet from the dedicated microphone, which is supposedly pointed right at my head.
Amazon Echo also works with third-party services—you can use it to play music from Spotify, control smart-home gadgets from Belkin WeMo or Samsung’s SmartThings line, even call for Domino’s pizza or order an Uber. Siri today is much more limited, but there’s a rumor that Apple will announce a Siri SDK at next month’s WWDC that will allow developers to integrate with Siri.