Will Apple launch a rival to Amazon Echo and Google Home? It certainly seems so, and the rumours are starting to appear after a couple years of speculation that Apple would launch a similar gadget, despite Siri being available on iPhones and iPads already.
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The latest comes from Sonny Dickson, an Australian blogger who has been right on a few previous Apple rumours.
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When is the Apple Home release date?
Apple’s September 2016 event came and went without so much as a mention of an ‘Apple Home’ gadget. Many dismissed the rumours of such a product because Siri is already at your command in your pocket on your iPhone, and also now in your ear with the new wireless earphones, the AirPods, reviewed.
But with the new rumours, including one that Apple will announce the gadget at its WWDC in June, it could be just about ready to launch later in the year.
At least one report last year claimed Apple’s Siri speaker was been in development since before the Echo was launched. The theory about the late launch was that Apple was waiting until developers had added Siri support to their apps before launching such a device.
Siri can only be used for certain types of apps, but it should mean that you’re far more likely to want to use the assistant when it can control your favourite apps. And if a dedicated Siri speaker were sitting on your mantelpiece which could relay messages and let you turn off the radiators in the bedrooms upstairs, well, that’d be pretty handy.
And Apple already has a home hub of sorts: the Apple TV. What it lacks is a microphone and speaker, although the fourth-generation ATV does come with the Siri remote (above) which does have a microphone, and it’s easy to hook up a speaker to the box.
An ‘Apple Home’ speaker would be a neater, all-in-one solution.
What are the rumoured features?
Assuming it has been designed to do the same job as Amazon and Google’s devices, then it will be a smallish standalone (mains-powered) speaker that has far-field microphones which constantly wait to hear a phrase such as “Hey Siri” so you can ask a question or make a command at any time from anywhere in the room.
It should be able to do everything Siri can do now, including answering requests for information, directions, playing music, setting timers, adjusting the temperature and turning on and off appliances and lights.
According to Dickson’s tweets, there could be a tie-in with Beats and could be styled like the Mac Pro. He also says it will have “same style UE Boom mesh” which means it could have fabric to soften its appearance in the home.
It’s also supposedly being marketed as an AirPlay device. This makes sense as AirPlay speakers exist already and this device would surely include that functionality.
Another tweet says “Concave top with the controls, fat with the speaker mesh portion covering it all.”
Until Apple officially unveils the device, it’s impossible to know which of these details are correct.
How much will the Apple Home cost in the UK?
That is a question no-one can answer right now. There are no rumours on price, but it wouldn’t surprise us if Apple charges more than Apple and Google do.
The Apple TV costs £139 for the 32GB and £179 for the 64GB. Although it’s a slightly odd comparison, we’d imagine Apple would price a new gadget slightly higher than these. But would you pay £199 for a Siri speaker?
Apple products can already do much of what the Echo and Google Home can do, and Siri is already pretty much as capable as Alexa and the Google Assistant.
The firm launched HomeKit with iOS 8 in 2014, but although the software sounded exciting – you could use Siri to turn on your heating or shut the blinds – physical products which supported HomeKit have only recently become available, in the UK at least.
This goes some way to explaining why there’s a Home app in iOS 10. In iOS 8 or 9, you had to download an app specific to the hardware you’ve got, such as the Elgato Eve Thermo radiator valve. Sure, you could use Siri to control the gadgets, but there was no central place where you could see all your HomeKit gadgets in one place.
The Home app addresses this and also allows you to create what Apple calls Scenes. With Scenes you can make several things happen with one command. Tell Siri, for example, “I’m home” and your HomeKit-compatible lights and heating can turn on, and your indoor security cameras can be disabled. Before iOS 10, you had to download a third-party app to get this kind of functionality, or rely on multiple apps to control HomeKit products individually.