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

on August 7, 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.