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Siri is getting optimised for HomePod as Apple lags behind in smart speakers race

Changes to Siri are similar to features which are currently being offered by Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

tech Updated: Jan 04, 2018 11:42 IST
The HomePod speaker is photographed in a a showroom during an announcement of new products at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California.
The HomePod speaker is photographed in a a showroom during an announcement of new products at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California. (AP)

Tech giant Apple is reportedly making minor tweaks to its intelligent personal assistant, Siri to suit and fit into the much awaited smart speaker, HomePod.

According to TechCrunch, the changes are similar to features which are currently being offered by Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

Moreover, the feature is designed specifically for one’s usage when they don’t have a display in front of them. The changes will further help Apple to fulfill Siri’s stated goal of using the best potential interface method for all scenarios.

Featuring a seven-speaker array of tweeters, a four-inch subwoofer, and a six-microphone array, the HomePod is priced at USD 349 and will take on other products from rival companies such as Sonos, as well as smart assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

The HomePod speaker was originally set to be released in US by December 2017, but will now be available in US, UK and Australia by early 2018. ALSO READ: Apple HomePod speaker launch postponed until 2018

Amazon versus Google: Who will win smart speakers race?

Reuters reports that Amazon and Google both discounted their virtual assistant speakers so deeply over the holiday shopping season that they likely lost a few dollars per unit, highlighting a sharply different strategy from Apple Inc as it prepares its HomePod speaker, analysts said.

Both companies cut prices for the smallest version of their speakers, the Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini, to as little as $29 from $50 for the U.S. holidays. Midlevel versions cost a bit more than twice as much.

Apple failed to ship its $349 HomePod speaker in 2017, as it initially planned, and said the device would go on sale in early 2018.

Apple aims to make a profit on the device itself and bolster sales of its $9.99 per month Apple Music subscription, analysts said. Apple’s voice assistant Siri likely will focus on recommending new songs.

Amazon and Google, meanwhile, are eager to give consumers a taste of their respective digital assistants, Alexa and Google Assistant, at impulse-buy prices, hoping to lock in customers and profit from later sales of goods and data about buying habits.

The Home Mini and Echo Dot do not match the sound quality of the HomePod, but consumers may see less need for a superior, pricier speaker from Apple once they have a rival set up. Even the midlevel Amazon and Google devices were discounted to $79 over the holidays.

“That kind of pricing is great for consumers and bad for Apple,” said Paul Erickson, a senior analyst with IHS Markit.

Some consumers might consider a $30 speaker to be cheap enough to throw away and not a barrier to buying the Apple device when it arrives.

Amazon declined to comment on Echo devices but said in a press release it sold millions of its Echo Dot speakers during the holiday season, making it the best-selling product over the period on its online store.

Google did not disclose sales numbers for the Home Mini, but Google Home spokeswoman Nicol Addison said the company was very happy with holiday performance. Google gave away the devices to buyers of its new Pixel 2 smartphones and offered them for $29 at Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy.

Amazon dominates the emerging market for smart speakers outside of China, with Google closest behind. Sales of the devices are not yet substantial enough to affect the financial results of either company.

Both companies took small losses or broke even on sales of the hockey puck-shaped devices, analysts estimated.

The Echo Dot has about $31 worth of parts, according to analysis by ABI Research. Components in the Google Home Mini cost about $26. The figures do not include overhead, shipping and other expenses, meaning discounted versions likely sold at a loss.

“Apple is in a bit of trouble,” said Adam Wright, senior research analyst at IDC, who estimated that about 35 million smart speakers had been installed worldwide as of a couple of weeks ago - not including U.S. Christmas sales. “We’ve witnessed an explosion in the last six months.” ALSO READ: Amazon Echo Plus review

Roku joins the bandwagon

Roku plans to add a voice-controlled digital assistant to its streaming TV players in an attempt to catch up with Google, Apple and Amazon.

Roku’s voice capabilities are currently limited to performing search requests and launching apps. The assistant will be able to field broader requests about video, music and other tasks tied to entertainment.

Still, that’s a much narrower scope than the assistants already available from its bigger rivals in the battle to build digital command centers in people’s homes. Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa can perform tasks and control appliances that have nothing do with entertainment.

Roku could fall even further behind before its assistant reaches homes. Although it was announced Wednesday, the assistant won’t be released until this fall as part of a software update.

By the time that its assistant comes out, Roku hopes to have an array of agreements to license its software to the manufacturers of smart speakers, sound bars and other audio devices.

Roku also announced its plans to wirelessly connect its video players with sound systems Wednesday, expanding upon the partnerships that it already has forged with television manufacturers during the past five years.

TCL will be the first manufacturer to design a sound system tied to Roku’s video players. More details about that device will be released next week when Roku and other technology companies gather for a major electronics show in Las Vegas.

(With inputs from Reuters, AP)