HomePod Will Soon Be Obsolete as Companion Robots Become Popular

4 minute read
| Particle Debris

The Apple HomePod and other intelligent speakers will soon be obsolete. Here’s why. The Robots are coming.

Intelligent speakers like Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s HomePod and Google Home are just the first wave of little devices that are internet connected and can chat with us. Because they’re about the size of a coffee can, or smaller, they aren’t very complicated.

kuri home robot

Mayfield Robotics Kuri

That’s a sensible way to get customers hooked on the technology at a modest cost.

But technology always evolves. Developers get their feet wet with some basic aspects of the technology, like voice recognition, while other more challenging aspects, say, mobility are held back while R&D continues. Just as we’ve seen from Apple, a well planned infrastructure leads to new capabilities down the road.

The logical extension of the intelligent speaker and its infrastructure is the robot companion.

HomePod Growth, then Decline

But wait. Dan Moren argues that the HomePod is just getting started. “Apple’s smart speaker has plenty of room to grow.” And he’s right. The capabilities of the HomePod will expand rapidly, just as we’ve seen with the Apple Watch in the last three years.

And yet, in parallel, there is a technology that I believe will eventually subsume these smart speakers. It’s the home companion robot. For some background, see: “Family Robot Companions Are Evolving Fast, Will Soon Be Common.” There, I wrote:

These robots don’t have to bring a giant bag of dog food in from the truck or carry the laundry upstairs. Instead, they just have to be cute, alert, expressive, good listeners, good companions and, most of all, affordable….

…Modest hardware, very fast processors, an internet connection, machine learning and AI software will play an extraordinary role if they’re fused together with a crisp vision and smart engineering. They’ll make the currently, in vogue, intelligent speakers seem like the 8-track tapes we dumped into the closet years ago.

When you think about the design of an intelligent speaker, it’s missing some essentials that customers will soon long for. It’s immobile, so it can’t do scouting and do remote-controlled telepresence. Some speakers have cameras, but you’d need one in every room. These speakers are not very expressive. The don’t connect with us via warmth and touch.

Who, being on crutches after a skiing accident, wants to sit next to a little brick all day. It’s not great companionship. Companion robots, with advanced designs for human interaction, will easily supercede smart speakers.

R2-D2While a companion robot like Kuri doesn’t yet carry on a conversation, I’ll bet it’s coming. And when it does, our little smart speaker bricks will start to feel like the early Personal Digital Assistants that were made obsolete by the modern smartphone.

The future belongs to expressive, cuddly, emotive, mobile companion robots like Kuri (and, of course R2-D2) and not plastic speakers on a bookshelf.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week of February 19th. Apple’s annoying OS antics.

12 Comments Add a comment

  1. geoduck

    I think you are probably right about personal robots replacing smart speakers. I mean one of rhe complaints that always comes up is they are immobile. You need one in each room. I know the perfect model to go with. The Banana Junior 9000 from Bloom County. https://goo.gl/images/acWxun It even has the right attitude

  2. CudaBoy

    Apple may be just getting started but the rest of the world has been marketing AI and AR toys and devices for a while now. If Japan is any indication Companion Robots will be huge. They already sell in the tens of thousands over there and are just beginning to have many many competitors besides Honda Toyota and Sony… They won’t be gimmicks; they will be useful for older citizens that may live alone or in hospices. Whether they ambulate or not won’t be the most important feature; I presume the machine learning towards a capable verbal and visual interaction would be key – your bot would “know” you and provide comfort via talk, music, media – it will show you your memories on screen etc. Once they put a shine on the fMRI brain reading (they can already crudely read images that you portray in your head!!! Which implies the reverse will be possible eventually – i.e. planting happy memories or images INTO your head) you will merely THINK and your Bot will know what you want or need. Poor Apple is not on any cutting edge though – in fact they abandoned the Car like a scared little child; I guess too busy building huge testaments Lord Steve shaped like a donut – ohh how far we’ve come since Apple 1 built in a suburban garage, Apple II designed in a rented space in a non-descript industrial zone and all early Mac development done on the upstairs level of a walk-up two-tenant office suite located behind a Texaco station next to a car dealership. The other tenant was an insurance agency. Woof. 🎼

  3. PSMacintosh

    Oh, John. I think your so wrong on this one!
    Most of the “tasks” that you are describing (as wanting a robot to do) are best done by a Home Central Computer System: a 2001 HAL ( non-malevolent). That Home System is going to come first and foremost and be more immediate and useful.
    Robots will come later (as they get good at doing their type of tasks), but they will be more of “accessories” to and “tools” of the Home System.

    I think we will have speakers and cameras (which we can choose to turn on and off) in every room, all interconnected to the HAL and the home network of IoT devices.
    If I need information, I will just ask a question. I will get visuals played on any screen that happens to be in the room that I am in (or walking through). I won’t wait for a robot to come running to ask a question (and I don’t think I really want a robot following me around and getting in the way!) If I want the lights lowered, heat increased, garage door checked, I’ll have the HAL system do it. So the HAL system doesn’t need to be mobile, if it’s already in every room…..and it will be cheap enough to have in every room–a pod on each ceiling (for $200) versus a robot who can actually navigate a house and stairs (for $8000).

    At what point–inside the house boundaries–will I need or want a robot to do something? Most of the simple tasks are just too easy for me to do myself. I’m going to brush my own teeth and get my own dinner and grab my own beer.
    The hard or difficult tasks that I’d like help with…..well, it’s going to be a long time before a house robot can actually do those things, if ever. And then the robot going to be focused on doing those type of tasks as a supplemental tool to the HAL system.
    Will a house robot every be able to actually “hang a picture”, really tighten down a striped screw, change a leaky faucet. Maybe it will “mix a bowl” and “stir scrambled eggs” and “bring a remote” and “take the door for a walk/pick up the doo”.

    And as for the cute “companionship” aspect, until the robot gets all the way to becoming a fantastic “sex toy”, I think that the HAL system will function well enough as a “working partner” for many years. Yeah, that’s sort of gross. But I just don’t see the real value in the robot model. If the robot can do vacuuming and bathroom cleaning and windows, great! But then I don’t really need it to do the “informational” tasks that you’re touting. I’ve already got the HAL system to do that.

    The house robot you’re describing is just a gimmick (conversation piece) to waste money on.
    Anyway, that’s my prediction for the next 40 years.

    • geoduck

      Depending on what they do I think a mobile house robot could be very useful. I agree with you on a couple of points. The idea of a really big computer in the basement next to the furnace and terminals to access it and robots as portals for it makes a lot of sense. Keep the computing power remote. I see the industry moving that way with HomeKit devices being essentially dumb devices that are controlled by and report to your phone.
      As far as “I don’t think I really want a robot following me around and getting in the way”. Isn’t that what a dog or cat is for? And they cost less.
      However I do think an assistance robot could be a lot of help for the disabled, and elderly. Not a little teddy bear sized thing though. And not an Asimo humanoid shape. I keep getting back to a thing the size of a small bench with legs with wheels and possibly manipulators. Six legs and two manipulators seems like the optimum number. That would be very strong and stable Able to roll around as well as climb stairs. It would be able to pick things up when they got dropped, get things that are not readily at hand, and carry on a conversation when requested. It could monitor the person and call for help if needed. It would be big and robust enough to help the person walk, they could even sit on it if they get tired. It could help them get into bed, or go to the bathroom. Open doors, and help them get dressed. That sort of thing could be very useful.

  4. euchanels

    Lol! Let me explain what happened, either you sniffed too much coke, or you took Concerta or you drank a strong cup of coffee, your neurons fired off and in that mood of excitement you started connecting dots like a iTunes library on shuffle mode. Smart speakers and gimmicky “robots”? Give me a break! Thats the kind of nonsense people who fantasize about the Jetsons become a reality do all day long -its called coveting, covering things of your vain imagination and thinking you can manipulate reality, talk about an obnoxious lunatic!
    Yea, I know you believe in the evolution of technology and all that (some of us just differentiate between what is obtainable and what is not) -just like everyone else who submerges themselves in far fetched fantasies about science fiction -you also obviously dont realize that we are beings of endless capability who needs to PROGRAM that spectrum of endless capabilities into a robot -that means it would literally take eternity to make robots interesting for the all-capable human to find IT worthy of keeping our attention on the consumer end…. But hey, keep chasing your tail, or should I say fairytale?
    One last thing, I expect an apology from you in a couple of months time when the HomePod crushed the smart speaker competition and obviously your fantasy of robots taking over, and in that article I don’t wanna hear your “but’s”. You like all people who allow science fuctional fantasies to run their impulses is what causes man to invest their time, money and energy into useless pursuits that rob the poor of their needs while you keep a torch of false and pointless hope alight. Thats why people think we going to Mars…….. and then on top of that people like you always conveniently forget your promises and predictions, but always maintain somewhere in the future…. Yea, 50 years no moon landings but hey ya’ll, we going to Mars. -You see what happens when people start connecting such ambiguous dots? Listen, hompods will convey music to people in their homes, people want music, because a new song is so much more exciting than having to learn that your next “robot” update now allows IT to stay out of the swimming pool -that dont improve lives…. Get a life, and stop writing articles when you are high on caffiene or whatever made your impulses go rampant.

  5. skipaq

    I tend to agree with the smart device in various parts of a home rather than a personal robot following me around. This type of system is far more economical than a personal robot. You don’t need mobility if the AI is all over the house. I also think the personal device will continue to be hand held or worn. A household with five people living together will not enjoy sharing their space with three to five personal robots running around. Or perhaps there will be one family robot with five people demanding its’ attention. Not likely.

    There will be personal robots; but this will be a limited market. I just don’t see these as being practical for the vast majority of people.

  6. Lee Dronick

    Well at least the subject of robots has got some comments and conversation going, too often good articals here go uncommented.

  7. wab95


    You’ve presented, intentionally or not, a representative number of topics for your weekly PD, but this week’s is different, at least to my reading, and I’d like to step back and take a 60,000 ft or perhaps even a LEO (low earth orbital) observation. Caveat lector: this topic is too complex for so cursory a treatment, but this fool rushes in where angels, and the wise, fear to tread.

    The horizon is bent. And, to paraphrase astronaut David Bowman, ‘My God! It’s full of…complexities’ (it’s hard to pass up a nod to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ whenever possible). What nearly every topic you’ve raised shares in common is about either a new technology (HomePod, APFS file system) or the evolution of an existing technology (macOS, iOS, Apple Pay) or industry (B&N Bookstores, Tesla, FCC and Net Neutrality) and the challenges these present to our adoption, and how those challenges, in turn, may affect the future of these same technologies (smart speakers supplanted by mobile companion bots) and industries (extinction level events for brick and mortar bookstores, effect on Tesla marketshare/mindshare, industry behaviour on net neutrality).

    The horizon is bent.
    Through most of human history, social and technological change has been slow, with a gradual arc across multiple generations, such that the lifestyle of one generation was imperceptibly different from that of two or even three generations prior. The horizon, for all practical purposes, was straight, and the sociotechnological earth was flat (see Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’ https://www.amazon.com/Homo-Deus-Brief-History-Tomorrow/dp/0062464310/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519595833&sr=8-1&keywords=homo+deus). Without digressing into this process beginning in the mid-19th Century, and gathering pace exponentially over time since, suffice it to say that this present generation and its living offspring are being presented with intra-generational socio-technological change at such a pace that they can see not only the bend of the horizon, but that the earth is spherical and that there is an infinite stygian frontier of challenge and opportunity beyond it that complicates every decision point taken today. Among these decision points are two foremost: 1) which technology will prevail; and 2) which of these technologies is secure, as determined by two outcomes; a) personal security in the traditional sense, and b) longterm investment security towards the future.

    Humanity is forced to drink from a fire hose, and not simply swallow the torrent, but do so in a way that ensures successful migration into the void of a fast-approaching but unknown future. Not only are the changes fast and relentless, many if not most leave no choice for the individual but to adopt. Whole technologies or standards are supplanted by new ones literally overnight with an update (AFS+ to APFS, net neutrality rules and implications for content access and privacy). A major unknown here, perhaps the central unknown, is human capacity for adaptation under these conditions. How much social and technological change can we assimilate and successfully adapt to such that, as a cohesive and well adjusted society, we are prepared to successfully navigate the next set of challenges? This features prominently into the calculus of complexity.

    My God! It’s full of complexities!
    Not simply the pace, but the range of complexity is a challenge for the individual and society, even more so for two sectors; the tech industry and lawmakers/regulators. Analogously, we’ve pushed through the sound barrier; meaning that we’re now travelling faster than can the information about these changes filter through to, let alone be digested by, our social infrastructure, namely jurisprudence and culture – the two adaptive responses that protect societal survival and cohesiveness. The adaptability and responsiveness of our legal systems have been particularly embarrassed, to use the medical term for inadequate performance.

    The pace and range of these changes are being driven, in my view, principally by two relentless forces; the need for security, and unmet consumer need – more specifically, predictions or best guesses about unmet consumer need (skating to where the puck might or might not be going). Real and potential breaches in the security of our technologies compel not simply updates but whole system changes, such that consumers are left with little choice but to adopt or be left vulnerable (ie move or die), and industry are compelled to push these changes out at pace, such that human error, including gross human error, is inevitable. We won’t touch on greed, corruption and malfeasance, but they too apply. Often, consumers assume that these less than perfect solutions are themselves acts of wilful malfeasance by industry; whereas I submit that while that might occur in specific instances, this likely exposes the limitations of capability and adaptability of industry and specific parties. As for the range and scope of change; we may have reached an inflection point at which AI may have to assist with the computation of algorithms that predict what direction to take with emerging technologies. The number of implications, and therefore options and opportunities for many of these technological advances, specifically smart devices, and which of these feasible devices should be prioritised, is reaching a complexity worthy of quantum mechanical theory, and predicts the near certainty that many of industry’s best predictions or guesses will fail. They will fail not only in adoption, but in preparedness of consumer readiness and security. If anything, we should anticipate that the frequency of failure will increase across the board, which in turn will create opportunities for the prepared mind, and therefore new players (and bad guys), to take advantage.

    The brave new world is not for the faint of heart, or the blithe.

  8. Mike Weasner

    I’ll throw in another annoying and ineffective Apple UI item:
    When doing MacOS updates, after the restart you get taken to the screen that shows the “progress” of the update installation. For me, it never finishes calculating “time remaining”. If Apple can’t figure out how much time is remaining to do the installation then it should remove the wasted CPU cycles spent trying to do the calculations. It certainly doesn’t tell me anything useful when the progress bar stops moving about 4/5s into the install and no actual (and correct) time remaining shows. In fact, what it looks like it is telling me is that the installation has locked up (it takes many many minutes to move past the 4/5s position). Apple needs to show more evidence that something good is still happening when installing MacOS updates.

  9. jackadoodle

    I have always enjoyed the satisfying “setting up your computer” graphic. And no, I don’t need to know the precise bits it is pushing around.

  10. eddychik

    I hope they announce Beta year in WWDC.

    No more major revision of iOS, no iOS 12, tvOS, macOS, etc. Instead we will get a small iOS 11.5 release.

    Introducing OS Eleven, the successor to OSX that is powering every single Apple devices. OS Eleven will be the core of all Apple OS, using the latest technology and Swift 5. 64bit top to bottom. Major rework and depreciating APIs. And it will be released at later part of next year, a full year of Beta testing.

Add a Comment

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter, Facebook) or Register for a TMO Account