Apple (AAPL) - Get Report essentially created the personal digital assistant when it launched Siri with the iPhone 4s back in 2011. In the last year or two, however, Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report has taken over the category with its popular Echo device, and Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Report recently announced its own plans to launch a personal digital assistant device called Google Home.
Now it appears Apple is looking to regain its dominance.
According to The Information, the iPhone maker will open its Siri digital personal assistant up to outside developers and provide guidance on how to produce apps at its Worldwide Developers Conference June 13 to June 17 in San Francisco. Apple is also reportedly working on an interactive home speaker to compete against Echo and Home.
The products are essentially always-on, voice-activated speakers that can perform simple tasks based on commands such as controlling lights, playing music or ordering dinner. So far, the devices are tied to separate personal digital assistants developed by their respective manufacturer -- Alexa for the Echo, and Google Now for Google Home.
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But analysts expect the personal digital assistants to evolve and eventually be able to complete complex tasks such as booking an entire vacation with just a single command, or whittling down restaurant choices by knowing the past habits of all those who will be in attendance.
"With all the excitement Echo has generated, it's still extremely niche," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with imore.com and former Apple marketing director. "None of these things we're talking about are really artificial intelligence. Underestimating Apple in this space or even Siri in this space would be fundamentally wrong."
Responding to a recent much-discussed blog post that said Apple could be going the way of BlackBerry (BBRY) if it falls behind in AI and personal digital assistants, Gartenberg said Apple is likely already active behind the scenes, but won't release a product until it offers an advantage for the company and is useful for consumers, such as a more intuitive and complex assistant.
Apple's own device was reportedly under development before Amazon released its Echo devices last year and already includes connectivity for its HomeKit connected home technology.
Although the device may be months or possibly years off, analysts almost universally agree that opening Siri to outside developers is prudent, since external companies already have written what are essentially apps to expand Echo's capabilities. These apps make the devices much more useful, allowing users to perform tasks such as check on the condition of their connected car, order dinner or even verbally play games like Jeopardy.
Google said it would offer similar functionality when it releases its Home later this year.
Apple has traditionally been cautious about allowing outside influences on its products to carefully control their use and performance. However, its decision to allow iTunes on Windows computers drastically expanded the market for its early iPods, and iPhone users aren't exclusively using Apple's Mac computers for syncing and backup.
"Opening up Siri to outside developers is a good idea," said Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin.
Martin said Apple releases new products at regular intervals, but is more likely to currently focus on advancing existing products such as Siri and the Apple Watch, rather than bring out an interactive speaker in the short term. "It already has software with Siri and it's got hardware with the phone," said Martin. "Cluttering the ecosystem with another product doesn't make sense."
Analysts also agree that while it's early days for personal digital assistants and related appliances, they are a product that is here to stay.
"Basically it's the battle for our digital exhaust inside the house, not in front of a computer or TV, [when] getting the smartphone in your hand is not convenient e.g. cooking in the kitchen," wrote Constellation analyst Holger Mueller in a direct Twitter message. "It's a location device. Think rotary phone of 21st century."