Apple Finally Gets Into The Voice-Activated Speaker Game

Apple has started manufacturing a Siri-controlled smart speaker — and might even be ready to debut it at the company’s annual developer conference in June.

Sources tell Bloomberg News that the device — which will not be ready to ship until later in the year — will be different from Amazon’s Echo and Google Home by offering virtual surround sound technology and deep integration with Apple’s product lineup.

While Apple declined to comment, these sources said that the company’s employees have been secretly testing the device in their homes for several months, and the Siri speaker reached an advanced prototype stage late last year.

“This will be a platform for developing Apple’s services,” says Gene Munster, a co-founder of Loup Ventures and former Apple analyst.

The Home and Echo typically don’t support services from Apple, so a Siri-controlled speaker would provide a hub to automate appliances and lights via Apple’s HomeKit system, as well as lock customers more tightly into Apple’s network of services, such as Apple Music. The speaker would probably be included in Apple’s “Other Products” category, which currently includes devices like the Apple Watch, Apple TV and AirPods.

In addition to generating virtual surround sound, the speakers being tested are louder and reproduce sound more crisply than rival offerings. Ahead of Apple’s launch, the competition has upgraded their speakers with support for making voice calls, while Amazon’s added a touchscreen. Apple’s speaker won’t include a touchscreen, but the company has considered including sensors that measure a room’s acoustics and automatically adjust audio levels during use.

Another bonus for Apple is that it will likely let third-party services build products for the speaker. Last year, Apple opened up Siri on the iPhone to companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Facebook Inc., allowing a user to order a ride or send a WhatsApp message with a voice command.