As posted on Apple has started production on Siri-based Echo competitor, reports say

Apple has reportedly started production of its Siri-based competitor to Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, plugging a hole in its device lineup that has become increasingly noticeable over the past two years.

The new device will be similar to competitors’ offerings in form, offering a voice-controlled speaker that can sit in the kitchen or living room and verbally respond to basic commands and queries.

According to Bloomberg News, one key differentiator will be audio quality: Apple is planning to ship the speaker with “virtual surround sound technology”, which uses one speaker to create the impression of several, as well as investing heavily on general quality improvements to ensure a richer sound than competitors.

But more important for many Apple fans will be the expected tight integration with the rest of the company’s products. The company’s music streaming service is tricky to use on Amazon’s Echo, and impossible to use on the Google Home, while both devices also require users on iOS to open a dedicated app to see any further information in response to queries.

By contrast, Apple could use its control of the locked-down iOS ecosystem to put responses to queries on the lock screen of iPhones, iPads and Watches, similar to how Siri works on the company’s devices today.

Apple tried to make the Apple TV its smart-home hub, but the line has repeatedly failed to take off. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The need for an Apple-branded “smart speaker” has become clear over the past two years, since Amazon released the Echo to surprise success amongst US consumers. The devices are rapidly becoming key hubs for smart home setups, as well as the most-used extension of voice-controlled assistants into many owners’ lives.

Apple has previously bet on its set-top box, the Apple TV, as its smart-home hub, but the line has repeatedly failed to take off. The Apple Watch was intended to be the major extension of Siri into the lives of users, but while the hardware is still selling at a relatively high rate, the voice assistant sees little use, with owners preferring the Watch’s notification and fitness tracking features.

The first public hints at the speaker could come as soon as Monday’s keynote presentation at Apple’s worldwide developer’s conference, although Bloomberg reports that the device probably won’t ship to customers until later this year.

With just four days until the event, at which Apple is expected to show off the next versions of iOS and macOS for the first time, an unexpectedly small number of details have leaked out about what features those operating systems will include. By this time last year, news of a redesign to the Music app, the ability to delete stock apps, and Siri on the Mac had all leaked out. But when it comes to iOS 11 and macOS 10.13, the strongest rumour is that the next version of the computer operating system will have a name beginning with M.