Apple’s much-awaited Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is set to kick off Monday at 10 a.m. Pacific Time (01 a.m. ET). The WWDC has historically been a software event, but this year it’s going to be a mix of both software and hardware. Analysts believe that Apple will unveil a new iPad Pro 2, refreshed MacBooks, new iMac, and a new home assistant called Siri Speaker at the event.

Siri Speaker WWDC
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Siri Speaker to start shipping ‘later this year’

Apple’s Siri Speaker is arriving a little late. Amazon Echo and Google Home have already been claiming spots in the American homes. The Siri-controlled smart speaker has entered mass production, reliable sources told Bloomberg recently. However, Siri Speaker is not expected to ship until “later this year.” A Foxconn insider revealed in a no-holds-barred Reddit thread that the smart speaker looks like a smaller trashcan Mac Pro.

The Foxconn employee added that Apple had been testing a variety of prototypes including some with a display and a camera. However, the final version that entered mass production a few days ago lacks both these features. Notably, Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller has in the past questioned the usefulness of a smart speaker without a screen.

Inventec manufacturing Siri Speaker

Bloomberg notes that the Siri Speaker will serve as a hub for the Cupertino company’s HomeKit home automation system. It will allow users to control home appliances and lights. The device will also help Apple get users locked into its ecosystem more tightly. People who don’t own Apple hardware will most likely choose Google Home or Amazon Echo, but those who own Apple products are more likely to buy the Siri Speaker.

Apple is also expected to allow third-party services to develop products for the speaker. The company has already opened Siri to third-party service providers and app developers. Both Google Home and Amazon Echo support third-party offerings. Loup Ventures co-founder Gene Munster believes that the Siri Speaker will be “a platform for developing Apple’s services.”

Sources told Bloomberg that Taiwan-based Inventec is responsible for manufacturing the Siri Speaker. Inventec is the same company that makes AirPods. Apple employees have reportedly been testing the home assistant since last year. Apple CEO Tim Cook is betting big on services as the iPhone sales growth has slowed. He aims to double the services revenue from $24 billion last year to at least $48 billion by 2020. The speaker may help keep users loyal to Apple’s services such as Apple Music.

How it differs from Google Home, Amazon Echo

Tight integration is just one of the many ways for Apple to differentiate its product from Google Home and Amazon Echo. The Siri Speaker will offer superior sound quality with virtual surround sound technology. Sources told Bloomberg that it would “reproduce sound more crisply” than rival offerings. Apple’s product is also expected to include sensors to measure acoustics and automatically adjust audio levels.

Ahead of the Siri Speaker launch, competitors have rushed to improve their offerings. Amazon has unveiled a new Echo with a touch-screen display, a camera, and video-calling feature. Priced at $230, the new Echo will go on sale on June 28th. Google has also showcased new features such as hands-free calling for its speaker assistant at its I/O conference last month.

Amazon has also added the iCloud Calendar support to the Echo speaker. Echo was already compatible with calendars from Microsoft and Google. The e-commerce giant has now linked Alexa to iCloud Calendar, meaning you can check appointments and add events hands-free to your iCloud Calendar. It will then sync from the server to other iCloud-connected devices.

Analysts are optimistic about the future of voice-controlled home assistants. Voice is the biggest shift since smartphones in the way we interact with devices. According to research firm eMarketer, about 36 million Americans will use smart speakers at least once a month this year. People want to own the voice-activated assistants that fetch the news, provide important information, play music, make shopping lists, read audio books, and answer questions.

How much will Siri Speaker cost?

It is unclear how much Apple’s Siri Speaker will cost users. Apple’s products almost always command a premium over rival offerings. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has indicated that the Siri Speaker would be more expensive than Amazon Echo, which currently sells at $179. The rumor mill expects it to be priced between $250-$300. But that will be too high a price tag for a device that lacks a camera and a display. Amazon’s new Echo with a touch screen and camera has been priced at $230.

If Apple unveils the Siri Speaker at this year’s WWDC, it will be the first time since 2013 that the company introduced new hardware at the event. After announcing the device, Apple may give third-party developers a few months of time to develop services for the speaker before it becomes available. Apple is also going to introduce a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro 2 and refreshed versions of MacBooks with faster Intel processors at the event.