Is Apple’s New TV Their Answer to Amazon’s Echo?

Tim Bajarin / August 7th, 2015

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for our Insider audience that talked about Amazon’s new Echo device. I said I saw the Echo as a Trojan Horse Amazon could use to help them gain a stronger place in the home, especially when it comes to home automation and IoT.

I put the Echo on my kitchen counter and, using voice commands, I ask it all kinds of questions regarding things like the weather, news, play a specific song, turn on lights, etc. One of the handier features is to tell it to put an item on my shopping list and, when I go to the store, I just pull up the Echo app on my iPhone and all the items I told the Echo is on the list.

The more one uses it, the more becomes clear Amazon’s Echo is on to something. It has become an important cornerstone of a bigger strategy Amazon has in mind. They have published the APIs so third-party device makers and software vendors can support it. This is especially true for things like controllers for light switches, thermostats and makers of electronic door locks. I suspect Amazon will offer a whole home security system tied to the Echo as this would be a great application for it. The Echo has the potential of being a digital control center for the home and, when tied to their mobile app, it could some day allow for a complete, centralized remote solution to manage all of the digital connections one has in their home.

As it turns out, this idea has been floating around for some time. In fact, if you look at the original Knowledge Navigator video Apple produced in 1987, it actually had some elements of this concept in it, albeit the example was around an education/research metaphor instead of the home.

Given Apple’s long history with the idea of using a TV/computer voice command system to navigate around digital data, I would not be surprised to see Apple making that a key part of their new Apple TV platform that included HomeKit apps and voice commands as part of its design. If so, this would be Apple’s answer to the Echo and it too could become an important strategic “Trojan Horse” for Apple. However, Apple could have quite an edge over Amazon given Apple’s rich iOS. I am sure it would sit at the center of their new Apple TV. A powerful SDK would let developers create apps for it and, using HomeKit, create all types of connected home devices that would be controlled by voice through an Apple TV box.

Sure, you could also handle the voice commands on the iPhone via Siri but, in the home, people do not carry their phone with them all of the time. Many times it is set on a desk, counter, etc. However, if the TV is in a centralized place where all one had to do is say a voice command and Apple TV handles it, then the function of Apple TV and this interface would add a new dimension to the overall man/machine interaction within the home.

That is one of the cool things about Amazon’s Echo. As I point out in the Insider piece on Amazon’s Echo I refer to above, this device is small and blends into its surrounding. But all I have to do is use the command “Alexa” to turn it on and it is ready to respond to my voice commands. At the moment, the Echo’s abilities are limited but that is where Amazon is hoping to get strong support by third party vendors who would create apps and connected devices that would work with it.

However, Apple already has an army of software and hardware developers well schooled in how to create apps and devices for iOS and it would be relatively easy for Apple to tweak the current SDKs to give them another great platform to create and control innovative apps and products for the connected home integrated into Apple TV. Now, I have no clue if Apple is doing this in a new Apple TV they reportedly will release this fall, but it would not make sense for Apple to do a stand alone box for this purpose. On the other hand, an Apple TV would be the ideal vehicle for delivering an Echo-like experience connected to HomeKit and add these functions to make it a centralized voice command center for handling TV, music, connected devices and information on demand services.

The more I use Amazon’s Echo, the more I like it, even with its current limitations. It has serious potential if Amazon can get third party developers to back it. But Apple could one up Amazon if they added this type of capability to their TV device/platform and give this box a new level of intelligence that uses voice for people to access information and control their home automation. If they do they could have another big hit they could add to the ones already driving Apple’s very large profit engine.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • jfutral

    I suppose it could be the answer to Echo if they wanted an Echo-like solution. I think Apple is getting more personal, however. I would imagine Watch being more of an Apple answer to an Echo-esque question.

    But what do I know?
    Joe

    • Tim Bajarin

      It could but what Echo does is make it possible for anyone in the home to use it to control things via voice. But it will be interesting to see what they do since this idea has legs and the TV is central enough to serve that role in the home.

      • jfutral

        Even as TV show viewing becomes more decentralized?

        Joe

        • Tim Bajarin

          In my insider piece on this I stated that Amazon would eventually create “mini echos” or a device that could be in other rooms that interacted with the Echo as a hub. Apple could easily do the same to handle the voice commands tied to the TV.

          • jfutral

            Okay. But Amazon needs Echo because they have no other hardware presence considering how much of a bomb the Amazon smartphone was and especially in light of your article about the smartphone becoming the center of our tech universe. Seems something tied to a smartphone is far more likely to become more universal than one or a hub and satellite system.

            Joe

          • obarthelemy

            They do have semi- (or is it once-in-a-while-) successful tablets, and I don’t think they need phones (or even tablets) that bad since the full Amazon experience is fully installable on Android (including Launcher), and mostly installable on iOS (excluding Launcher).
            I’m guessing the only thing they get out of Amazon-branded hardware is lock-in to their content/app store, since regular Androids can get content/apps from Amazon, but don’t *have* to. I’m not sure how much that is worth. Probably more than I’d guess, given they keep trying to bribe me to install their appstore with $100 in free apps.

          • jfutral

            Not that I know, but it would seem to me the more of the whole widget you control for something like this the better you can control the effectiveness and efficiency. Otherwise you are at the mercy of the hardware and OS software providers. Which is not impossible, I don’t think, but certainly a huge, added chore to the task list. I almost don’t think it was coincidence that the Amazon smartphone came first. If the smartphone had caught on at least as well as the Kindles, they may have been able to incorporate this function into the hardware at a better scale. Otherwise, it is easier to make dedicated hardware (which still could have supplemented both phone and tablet.)

            Joe

          • obarthelemy

            Ah ! the “widget” word had me in a spin for a while :-p
            I’m sure there are fringe benefits to having your own hardware, such as optimizing the picture recognition for the camera and the microphone for voice recog (and the other way round for both). On the other hand, even if the Fire phone had been a runaway success, Amazon can’t have hoped for more than a few percent share, so they had to tackle the iPhone/Android generics issue anyway ?

          • Michael Thomas Stehle

            The watch can handle the voice commands tied to the apple tv.

  • obarthelemy

    I think there are 2 or 3 distinct issues:

    1- which always-on gizmo links up with the cloud services that help our smart homes chug along.
    2- ditto for controlling our local smart objects, we’ll probably need sooner rather than later a centralized always-on comptroller to coordinate our objects, the cloud, run scripts, simplify things… Echo and aTV both can probably do 1- and 2-, but with drawbacks: sometimes a regular PC interface is better than voice in/out, and a dedicated cable-box like device safely tucked away seems more reliable than a kid/pet-accessible TV box or loudspeaker ?
    3- how do we interact with all those local and cloud smarts ? Voice or TV are nice possibilities, but I think that’s very much a personal + situational preference, so the whole gamut of possibilities must be covered: phone, tablet, PC, Echo, TV remote… I think I’d like an Echo that’d be able to display stuff via a smart projector (aiming for whichever flat surface is convenient for both of us) and/or see so I can tell it to order “3 of that” instead of “3 kilo packs of grade 55 bio Francine flour”…

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