“Alexa, when will Siri join you in managing devices in smart homes?” The answer to this question may not be too far off. Apple Inc. is pressing ahead with the development of an Echo-like smart-home device based on the Siri voice assistant, according to Bloomberg sources.

Started more than two years ago, the project has exited the research and development lab and is now in prototype testing, said the people who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced Apple projects. Like Amazon Inc.’s Echo, the device is designed to control appliances, locks, lights and curtains via voice activation. Apple hasn’t finalized plans for the device and could still scrap the project.

If a product reaches the market, it would be Apple’s most significant piece of new hardware since the company announced the Apple Watch in 2014. Echo has been a surprise hit, even to Apple engineers working on their competing project, and is already being baked into smart-home systems made by a range of companies. Besides taking on the competition, Apple is looking for a new hot seller to augment the iPhone.

The company is attempting to differentiate itself from Echo with more advanced microphone and speaker technology. Some of the prototypes in testing include facial recognition sensors. Apple has acquired the facial recognition startups Faceshift and Emotient over the past two years, which may help the device act based on who is in a room or a person’s emotional state.

Besides serving as a controller for other smart-home devices, the speaker would theoretically be able to process many of the Siri commands available on the iPhone. For example, users may be able to ask the device to read e-mails, send text messages and Tweets, and stream content from Apple Music. Apple has also considered integrating mapping information into the speaker, potentially allowing the device to notify a user when it’s time to leave the house for an appointment.

Google is trying to get into your house as well. According to Bloomberg, the internet search giant introduced Google Home, a voice-controlled wireless speaker that looks and acts much like the Echo. The device comes packaged with Google’s digital assistant technology, a conversational interface that is becoming increasingly critical to the company as its main business, Search, adjusts to a world without screens. The speaker is integrated with other smart-home devices from Philips, Samsung and Nest, a separate division of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Google hopes its advanced search and artificial-intelligence capabilities will appeal to more consumers in the nascent market for smart home gadgets. Its new device comes out alongside other products that Google designed in-house — a departure for the company, which has historically worked with hardware partners.

Google has tried its own devices before, the most successful being the Chromecast media streaming stick. Google is pricing Home relatively cheaply, a strategy that helped Chromecast’s popularity. The new speakers will retail for $129 in the U.S. Amazon’s main Echo device sells for $179.99, while a smaller Echo Dot speaker ships for $49.99.

The Telegraph reports that the number of people shopping for smart-home gadgets has increased six fold over the last year. So, it is not surprising that tech giants such as Apple and Google want to join Amazon in the enticing smart-home technology market. Although Alexa was the first houseguest, it looks like she will have to get comfortable sharing the space.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Cord Not Cord By Mikekuba)