Apple said to be working on an Amazon Echo competitor

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With iOS 10, Apple firmly planted its flag in the smart home world. After a few years of laying the groundwork with Homekit functionality for third-party products, the company finally offered up a centralized hub in the form of the simply-named Home App, a baked in offering designed to bring myriad devices to a centralized control panel, where users can monitor and interact with smart appliances without the need for countless proprietary apps.

Of course, the app’s success is entirely dependent on the ubiquity of the company’s hardware for success. In the ideal scenario, a Home user has two or three devices to really make the thing work. There’s the iPhone, which serves as manual control over different devices when you’re home – and also devices or deactivates different products through geofencing, so, say, your lights or air conditioner turn on and off as you come and go.

The always-on Apple TV, meanwhile, serves as a home hub, so users can control and their appliances when they’re away – easily one of the biggest selling points of the whole connected home concept. But what about those who don’t have a TV or an extra iPad they can leave lying around the house?

Apple is reportedly been working on a smart home hub along the lines of Amazon’s Echo speaker that leverages some advanced voice recognition technology to make Siri the center of its smart home strategy, much the way Amazon has managed to do with Alexa. Apple has clearly been working to amp up its Siri strategy of late, as noted in our iPhone 7 review, the company ditched Nuance a few years back in favor of ramping up its own internal team, resulting in a more robust version of Siri.

A device like this would certainly broaden the appeal of Apple’s long serving voice assistant — and would perhaps help to finally engage those users too self-conscious to talk to their phone in public. Users would be able to control their smart-home appliances with their voice, and well as the standard range of smart assistant functionality like reading email and checking the weather forecast.

According to Bloomberg, the smart-home hub project also began a couple of years back, and is finally ready to jump from R&D to prototype, with advanced speaker and microphone hardware designed to set the system apart from Amazon’s many different configurations and Google’s identically named Home device. The company has also apparently been toying around with various other methods of interaction, including facial recognition. But that, along with everything else, could still be scrapped at this point.

The company had also apparently flirted with the idea of building some of that functionality directly into a new version of Apple TV, ultimately abandoning that model in favor of building voice commands into the device’s remote, which rolled out on the version that it late last year.

If true – and if the product hits market – this would mark the first major new product line for the company in some time.