Apple Home: Making Siri a multi-personal assistant

Apple’s been working on bringing Siri to the home for a while. Apple TV has been prototyped as a home hub, probably AirPort Extreme and AirSpeakers as well. But so far, no Echo-like feature set or standalone product has been released. Why?

Mark Gurman and Ian King, writing about the Apple Home hub project for Bloomberg:

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, another person said, potentially allowing the device to notify a user when it’s time to leave the house for an appointment.

Looking at that list, it all sounds great. It also sounds like things “Hey, Siri” on iPhone and iPad can already do. Apple has that technology right now.

But iPhone is a personal device. So is an iPad, the way it’s currently set up. When you ask for that information, Siri on those devices knows it’s your information, and can authenticate you to prove it.

On an iPhone, saying “Hey Siri, read my texts!” results in your texts being read.

An Apple Home hub, much like an Apple TV, would be a communal device, not a personal one. When you ask for that information, how does Siri know who you are and how would it authenticate you to prove it?

On an Apple TV or Home hub, saying “Hey Siri, read my texts!” results in whose texts being read… and to whom? Do you get to access to your parents’ or children’s’ data? Your spouses or siblings? Your roommate or host?

That’s why Apple TV doesn’t have many of these features already. It can be logged into multiple Apple IDs, but tvOS hasn’t made any of them available to Siri or even for messages or mail apps on the device. Because, privacy.

The path slower taken

Similar to the Siri apps, where Apple tried to go deep instead of broad, and ensure domains and intents could handle a robust set of languages and sentence structures, bringing full-on Siri to the Home requires a lot of care and consideration.

That’s especially true given Apple’s very public, very high-level stance on privacy. Always listening microphones and always watching cameras are amazing for beam forming and target locking, but have profound ramifications for privacy. As does making Siri truly multi-user.

Voice ID and pass phrases, facial recognition and body analysis, and all sorts of other authentication systems work great in the movies, but in the real-world living room? Apple won’t even let Siri on Apple TV unlock your door or open your garage right now because the Siri remote can’t authenticate the request the way Touch ID or the heart-rate monitor on iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch can.

Not what but how?

What fascinates me more than whether or not Apple will extend Apple TV or AirPort Extreme, or release AirSpeakers or a standalone Apple Home hub — because of course they will—is how they choose to solve for multi-user while maintaining privacy and security.

It’s not about technology, it’s about philosophy. And it’ll likely require a whole lot of that Apple “magic”.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.