Ap­ple to jump on the band­wagon – again?

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT / INTERNATIONAL - Michael Liedtke

AP­PLE ap­pears poised to un­veil a voice-ac­ti­vated, in­ter­net-con­nected speaker that would cre­ate a new dig­i­tal pipe­line into peo­ple’s homes.

Tap­ping Ap­ple’s Siri dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, such a speaker is ex­pected to serve as a but­ler as well as an out­let for lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. If the spec­u­la­tion pans out, the speaker would be Ap­ple’s first new prod­uct since its smart­watch in 2015. And it would mark an ef­fort by Ap­ple to catch up with Ama­zon and Google.

An early glimpse at up­dates to iPhone and Mac soft­ware has be­come a tra­di­tion at Ap­ple’s an­nual con­fer­ence for app de­vel­op­ers, which be­gan yes­ter­day in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia. But Ap­ple oc­ca­sion­ally also uses the event to in­tro­duce new de­vices and ser­vices and up­grades to ex­ist­ing prod­ucts.

Ama­zon in­tro­duced the Echo speaker, fea­tur­ing its Alexa as­sis­tant, in 2015. Google fol­lowed with its Home speaker, fea­tur­ing its plain­named As­sis­tant, last year. Both speak­ers can re­spond to voice re­quests for the news, weather and tasks such as turn­ing on the lights.

More than 35 mil­lion peo­ple in the US are ex­pected to use a voice-ac­ti­vated speaker at least once a month this year.

“There is so much mo­men­tum build­ing around these speak­ers that it would be dif­fi­cult for Ap­ple not to come out with one,” said in­dus­try an­a­lyst Pa­trick Moor­head of Moor In­sights & Strat­egy.

Ama­zon just un­veiled a ver­sion of Echo with a cam­era, touch-screen dis­play and video-call­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The new Echo Show goes on sale on June 28 for $230 (R2 940).

Google, mean­while, pre­viewed new speaker fea­tures such as hands-free phone call­ing dur­ing its soft­ware con­fer­ence last month.

Mi­crosoft also has an­nounced its own speaker with Sam­sung’s Harman busi­ness; it will use Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana dig­i­tal as­sis­tant.

That leaves Ap­ple. Although it was the first smart­phone maker to come out with a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant when Siri de­buted in 2011, it hasn’t had a stand-alone as­sis­tant. For Ap­ple, hav­ing one would fur­ther broaden the role that its soft­ware, ser­vices and gad­gets play in peo­ple’s lives.

Com­peti­tors

It wouldn’t be the first time that Ap­ple hopped on the band­wagon of a tech­nol­ogy prod­uct pop­u­larised by a com­peti­tor.

For in­stance, Ap­ple ini­tially re­sisted en­larg­ing the size of iPhone’s screen de­spite strong sales for larger-dis­play phones made by Sam­sung and other ri­vals. But the com­pany re­lented, and Ap­ple’s larger phones have be­come hot com­modi­ties as more peo­ple have em­braced hav­ing a big­ger dis­play to look at pic­tures and watch video on the de­vices.

Although Siri would likely be a cen­tre­piece of a smart speaker from Ap­ple, Moor­head said the de­vice’s de­sign, colours and acous­tics will also likely be fo­cal points, be­cause the com­pany has a long his­tory of mak­ing el­e­gantly de­signed prod­ucts. - AP

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