Apple VP Phil Schiller Implies Voice-Activated Smart Speakers Could Benefit From a Screen

Gadgets 360 published an interview with Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller this week that could shed some light on Apple's plans for a dedicated Siri-based voice-assistant for the home. Rumors have swirled in recent weeks about Apple's plans to unveil an Amazon Echo-like smart connected speaker, possibly as early as WWDC in June, so Schiller's thoughts on the topic could potentially relate to the way Apple is approaching the design of its Echo rival.

During the interview, Schiller demurred when asked what he thought about Amazon's Echo and Google Home, but his comments clearly imply that the two speakers leave a lot to be desired: "My mother used to have a saying that if you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all." More revealingly perhaps, Schiller took pains to distinguish between different usage scenarios for voice assistants: handsfree, such as while driving, when simple voice-activation is convenient – but limited – and most other occasions when the availability of a screen is preferred.

phil schiller

"We think it's important that there are times when it's convenient to simply use your voice when you are not able to use the screen," said Schiller. "For example, if you're driving [and] you want Siri to work for you without having to look at the screen, that's the best thing. Or maybe you're across the room, and you want to ask Siri to change the song you're listening to."

So there's many moments where a voice assistant is really beneficial, but that doesn't mean you'd never want a screen. So the idea of not having a screen, I don't think suits many situations. For example if I'm looking for directions and I'm using Maps, Siri can tell me those directions by voice and that's really convenient but it's even better if I can see that map, and I can see what turns are coming up, and I can see where there is congestion, I understand better my route, and what I'm going to do.

Schiller continued his argument for voice assistants with screens using the example of photography and photo sharing. "With all the social networking apps that are now embracing photos more and more, well, it doesn't work really so great in voice-only assistants," said Schiller. The same goes for games, he said, calling them the "biggest category of all".

I have yet to see any voice-only games that, for me, are nearly as fun as the one that I play on my screen. And so I think voice assistants are incredibly powerful, their intelligence is going to grow, they're gonna do more for us, but the role of the screen is gonna remain very important to all of this.

Schiller ended his comments on the topic by calling the dual role of voice-assistants "an interesting discussion", especially with respect to "when each is appropriate, and what they can do in our lives".

It's unclear how Schiller's comments fit in with the recent uptick in rumors that Apple is working on a Siri-based smart speaker for the home. Often-reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities has said the product will double up as an AirPlay speaker and feature a custom W1 Bluetooth chip for easy pairing, while Sonny Dickson has suggested the device will run a variation of iOS and have a Mac Pro-like concave top with built-in controls. However, none have claimed Apple is working to integrate a screen into the device.

By contrast, recent alleged leaks have suggested Amazon's next-generation Echo could have a built-in touchscreen and camera with the potential to support phone and video calls.

In the Gadgets 360 interview quoted from above, Schiller also spoke about other topics, including Apple's Swift programming language, and the company's app subscription model as it relates to developers and users of the App Store. You can read the full interview here.

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Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Caution)

Top Rated Comments

otternonsense Avatar
47 months ago
Here's a tip, Phil: fix Siri first, make grandiose comments later.
Score: 45 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kodos Avatar
47 months ago

My mother used to have a saying that if you don't have something nice to say, say nothing at all

Stay classy, Phil. Cannot find a single nice thing to say about them? Here's one - they are both better than Siri.
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Aston441 Avatar
47 months ago
Well of course. How else could Siri show me Some Results I Found On The Web because she is a brain damaged retard and can't do anything besides Bing searches?

Alexa stands on her own.

Siri will need to be supported by a big (expensive) screen or she'll fall down. I'm feeling a thick $499 iPad with a big speaker coming on here lol!
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
haydn! Avatar
47 months ago
So basically what he just described is an iPad, with "hey Siri" enabled, stood on a dock on a shelf in someone's lounge. #innovation
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BruceEBonus Avatar
47 months ago
2017 really IS the POGO (Put Out Or Get Out) year for Apple.

A LOT of smoke and mirrors last year and this year and diversionary tactics employed.

Samsung have sold and are outselling the iPhone. Google is winning the AI war. MS winning the laptop war and Apple still having a go with their old iPads. But with tablet sales falling globally and Apple neglecting their original Mac market - 2017 has to be their year to prove they've not gone laz(ier) and actually bring something out that will make them stand out from the competition instead of just charity meals and RED paint schemes. Their shares keep rising despite years of stagnation. Will the name and glory years hold out on that alone? I say not. 2017 - Apple's POGO year. You read it here first.

("Yeah, right. Gerroff!"-MR Ed.)
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
4jasontv Avatar
47 months ago
This is Phil not getting it. Alexa works because the user is home. As soon as you step out of the house you risk being rude and annoying. For the car, where it's ok to talk to yourself, there is some value for a screen. On the street, in an elevator, in a cubicle, on the bus? These are places where it is never ok to use a voice assistant. Screen or no screen. At home though, where no one cares if you say the same thing five times, voice assistance works.

But the real reason none of this crap is any good is because people don't actually speak correctly. We say the wrong name or word all the time. Teach siri how to tell when I've corrected myself. Make sure she understands the difference between when I pause to think and when I'm actually done. Filler words like, um, hmm, yeah, like, and uhh shouldn't be an issue. Siri doesn't understand what I'm saying because she expects me to talk like a robot; it's not natural to always be purposeful, linear, and consistant.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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