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Apple’s intelligent assistant plans shouldn’t just echo the Amazon Echo

Dan Moren | May 30, 2016
Even if the company does decide to build a speaker-based device, the important part is the intelligence behind the device.

Not so fast. Where Apple really excels in the hardware market is in making personal devices, ones that we interact with directly. Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads are devices that we carry with us all the time or sit in front of for hours, so careful attention to the product's design and how it works is extremely important.

An Echo competitor, though, that's a little different. It's a device that you leave on a table somewhere, that you interact with most of the time by voice. The Echo itself is a great piece of industrial design. It has only three controls: an action button that either starts or cancels a query, a mute button and a volume ring. That's almost Apple-like in its simplicity.

But I hardly ever use any of them, because I control the Echo with my voice. Design niceties that make a world of different on a smartphone - materials, finishes, well-thought out user experience controls - don't count for nearly as much on a device that you largely don't touch once you've set it up.

Apple has made a few of those: the AirPort line comes to mind. There was the iPod Hi-Fi, too - Apple's ill-fated attempt at making a iPod dock speaker. I hesitate to throw the Apple TV in the mix, because so much of the interaction there still involves a visual user interface onscreen and a physical object to control it.

When you get down to it, an Echo-like device has much less in common with the iPhone or Mac than it does with, say, Google's search engine. That feels wrong, until you think about the method of interaction and the user interface.

Talking to the TV

I suspect many of the reasons above are why the rumour is that Apple will shoehorn Echo-like functionality into the Apple TV. Voice controlling my Apple TV without resorting to the Siri remote is something I can get behind, but I don't think that's a particularly great solution for an Echo competitor, since it feels a lot like a bolt-on that's outside of the main mission of the Apple TV. But I can see why it's an attractive idea, turning the set-top box into more of a home hub.

In the end, I'm not sure that it makes more sense for Apple to build an Echo-like device than it does for the company to redouble its efforts on improving Siri across its platforms. The great strength, after all, of the company is that it lets you take Siri wherever you go, rather than tethering your intelligent assistant to your home, such as in the Amazon approach.

Even if the company does decide to build a speaker-based device, the important part is the intelligence behind the device. Because you know what's better than an ambient intelligent agent? A ubiquitous intelligent agent that is, in the words of that age-old credit card slogan, everywhere you want to be.

Source: Macworld AU


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