Apple faces many obstacles if it wants to compete against Amazon Echo and Google's newly announced Home. The biggest obstacle is simply Apple's position on not collecting data on its customers. Ironically, that's exactly why many of us want the rumor that Apple is planning a "Siri speaker" to be true.
The Information broke the story—it's behind a paywall, but London's The Daily Mail printed many of its details. The short version is that Apple is reportedly planning to announce a "Siri speaker" with a microphone and a speaker that you could give commands to or ask questions of. The Siri-enabled device would be able to play music, give you headlines, and the other things one does with Siri.
The report said Apple would also open Siri up to third party developers—finally—and bring the technology to the Mac—finally.
TMO Concept Mockup of Siri-in-a-Box
All of this will be welcome news to fans of Apple and those invested in Apple's ecosystem, but that's where we get into some interesting territory. Many of us are fans of Apple in part because the company—alone among the tech giants—has built its business model around protecting our privacy.
And I really want this kind of functionality. I really want to be able to talk to my home constructively and productively. But I do not trust Amazon to listen to my every word. Or Google. Or Facebook. Or Microsoft. Rightly or wrongly, I do trust Apple.
Apple specifically doesn't compile profiles on us, and the company doesn't earn its money from selling those (nonexistent) profiles to the highest bidder. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently went so far as to say that Apple News doesn't need to know what song we were just listening to.
I posit that this is a mistake. For instance, if Apple News knew I spend an inordinate time listening to The Who, it would be able to offer me news stories about The Who's 50th Anniversary (!!!!!!) tour. If Apple News knew that I owned five books by Dan Simmons, it might offer me stories about a new book he had coming out. Or an interview he gave. Or a signing tour. Etc.
Such examples are endless, and it's why Google Now kicks iOS Proactive's metaphorical butt. I also think it's part of why Siri is seen as lagging behind competing services, even though it was heralded as the bee's knees when it shipped. Competitors like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have been able to leapfrog Siri because they aren't constrained by such quaint notions as "respect for privacy."
As part of its commitment to our privacy, Apple has been working hard to keep data used by such things as Proactive local to our devices. Since the content on those devices is protected by end-user encryption, Apple avoids building profiles on us that could be exploited by Apple itself, subpoenaed by governments, or compromised by criminal hackers.
I laud that philosophy while lamenting the practical limitations it has on the kinds of services Google excels at. Even Amazon's Echo is being praised as a ground-breaking device, powered in part by the reality that Amazon already has enormous dossiers on every one of its users.
There are no easy answers on this subject, and I frankly believe that if any company can solve this sort of problem, it's Apple. But if Apple is going to enter the always-on, listening-to-everything market, Siri-in-a-box has got to be able to keep up with or surpass Amazon Echo and whatever Google ends up releasing.
That won't be easy.