Phil Schiller Says Siri-like Voice Assistants Need Displays

Siri voice assistant counter top appliance may include a display

If Apple really is making an Amazon Echo competitor, what does their Siri speaker appliance really need? According to Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller, it needs a screen.

Siri voice assistant counter top appliance may include a display
Apple thinks voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa, need displays

Schiller was asked about Amazon Echo and Google Home—both are voice controlled speaker appliances—during a Gadgets 360 interview. He wouldn’t address either device directly, but did say voice-based assistants are far more versatile when they also have a display.

“So there’s many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn’t mean you’d never want a screen,” Schiller said. “So the idea of not having a screen, I don’t think suits many situations.”

He pointed to Maps and directions as an example: Seeing where you’re going is just as useful as hearing directions on how to get there. That makes sense when you’re in a car or walking through town, but it doesn’t address the idea of an in-home voice assistant where asking for directions to a location isn’t as likely.

Today’s in-home voice assistants stream music, turn on lights and other smart home devices, recite the weather and news, and perform internet searches. Those are all functions well suited to voice-only interaction.

For Siri, however, voice replies also typically include some sort of on-screen information, too. It could be Apple plans to extend that to a counter top appliance with its rumored device.

Insider reports say Apple is preparing to introduce its own Amazon Echo competitor possibly as soon as Worldwide Developer Conference next month. The device is said to look similar to the cylinder Mac Pro, but smaller, and include seven built-in speakers along with a subwoofer.

Apple has made it clear it wants to be everywhere in our homes and lives, and a Siri-based voice controlled speaker fits well with that plan. The iPhone and Apple Watch go with us everywhere, Apple TV controls our living rooms, and a voice controlled appliance extends that reach to the rest of our homes.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean we need a display to supplement the voice responses we get from these assistants. Part of what makes the Amazon Echo so useful is being able to interact with it from anywhere in a room regardless of where it’s sitting.

That said, it looks like Amazon is ready to add a display to its Echo product line. The company is rumored to be adding an Echo model with a 7-inch touch screen display with a built-in camera for video calls. Based on leaked images, the new Echo looks like something imagined in 1985 as voice-activated computer from 2015. It’s practically a Star Trek: The Next Generation prop.

Maybe we do need displays to go along with our voice-controlled assistants, and maybe Apple and Amazon are going to show us how badly we need them. Until that happens, consider me skeptical.

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