Watch out, Alexa. Siri is here. 

According to a Bloomberg report, Apple Inc. (AAPL) is developing a competitor to Inc.’s (AMZN) Echo, a smart home device that performs tasks based on voice commands. The device is said to have moved past the research & development stage and is now being prototype-tested by Apple engineers in their homes. (See also: Can Amazon Echo Compete With Siri?)

While the Apple device’s basic functionality remains similar to its competitor, it will differ from Echo in a couple of respects. For example, it will have enhanced microphone and speaker systems, presumably to ensure long distance voice and sound capabilities. It will also feature elements of Apple’s popular iOS ecosystem baked into its abilities. This means that users will be able to send text messages using voice commands, play music from Apple Music, or read e-mails. 

Apple enters an increasingly crowded intelligent voice assistant home category. Alphabet Inc. company Google (GOOG) demonstrated a smart home product – Google Home – at its developer conference in June. (See also: Google Home Brings Assistant To Your House). The coming October 4 event is expected to provide more details. In the meanwhile, Amazon has stolen a march over competitors with Echo – its smart home assistant that turned out to be a “sleeper hit” last year. The company has since expanded the range and quality of “skill sets” available on Alexa. The Echo Dot, which is a mini-version of the original device and is priced at $50, also went on sale recently. (See also: 3 Predictions For Amazon In 2016). 

According to some estimates, the market for intelligent virtual assistants is expected to reach $12.28 billion by 2024. The popularity of virtual assistants will be primarily driven by use of online channels for activities, such as marketing to problem resolution. The Bloomberg report also mentions an Apple initiative called “Invisible Hand.” This project intends to give users “full control” of Apple devices around a home through Siri, without having to open or re-activate the voice system. In such a scenario, Apple’s smart home assistant becomes an invaluable tool for users. In the short term, though, Apple is looking to the device to boost iPhone sales. “An iPhone-connected speaker would be another way for the company to boost its smartphone sales via its ecosystem,” the reporter writes. 


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