Siri Assist: Apple's new connected assistant


Coming in 2017, Siri Assist will interconnect with a range of Apple products and services, becoming the gateway to a voice-controlled future for the Apple universe.

Siri Assist will beat the Amazon Echo, fry Google Home for breakfast, and scare Sonos.

Imagine living in a stress-free world where information is at your fingertips, and control of the world around you is a just a voice-request away.

You arrive home, park in your driveway, the porch light turns on, the front door unlocks, and the climate controls for your home are set. The coffee pot starts heating up. You enter the front door with your favourite artist playing on the home speakers. Your favourite evening TV show begins streaming on pause on your internet-connected screen, ready to be played. The blinds open or close depending on the weather or your personal preference.

The only distraction is a minor alarm tone, alerting you that someone else hasn't unloaded the dishwasher.

Having a bad day? Siri Assist can help. Let's put on some soothing music, lower the lights, warm the room, and put some calm National Geographic landscape artwork on the TV.

Having a great day and feel the need to celebrate? Let's party! Turn up the volume, put the music videos on the TV, activate the disco lights, and pop up a notification to put the wine in to chill.

This is the future with Siri Assist from Apple.

What is Siri Assist?

Siri Assist is a voice-activated home automation product. Designed to out-class and out-rank competitors such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, Siri Assist is a small, tall, white octagonal device designed to be installed on the wall at eye level - in the TV room, near the kitchen, or even in the bedroom.

Depending on the size of your home or apartment, you may have one, two, or more linked Assists in your life. Instead of being hidden under a bench with your old DVD player, Siri Assist works best when hung on a wall, hence it's slim tall design. It's octagonal, with eight flat sides, enabling microphones, speakers, and a camera to each have a flat facet to work from.

Think of Siri Assist as your invisible personal assistant, ready to automate the world around you.

How can Siri Assist assist me?

Including the scenarios mentioned above, like coming home to find your lights, coffee, music, TV, and temperature preferences ready to go, Siri Assist can help with a range of other voice-controlled services.

Instead of asking your iPhone or iMac to look up information, start a music playlist, or load a website, just ask Siri Assist, without having to interrupt Facebook on your phone or wake your iMac. You can keep working on your spreadsheet (ahem, creative video project) on your MacBook Pro, while Siri Assist takes care of your request to close the blinds, turn up the heat, start the washing machine on night cycle, start the dishwasher, and rev-up your robot lawnmower outside, with a simple voice-activated "Hey Siri, get the evening chores done for me". Siri Assist replies, "Thanks, Xavier, I'll get on to it right now".

Ask Siri Assist: "Siri, assist me with tomorrow morning's work schedule".

Siri Assist replies, "Sure, here's your outlook for tomorrow..."

Siri Assist recognises your voice and uses your Apple ID to search for relevant information across your connected devices, dips in to your iPhone, iPad, iMac, and MacBook; checks your calendar; checks your home location and work location on Maps; notes your travel preference for walking, driving, or public transport; looks up the weather; looks up upcoming tasks from your family's group calendar, to-do list, and wish list; and presents a narrative based on this information.

Siri Assist replies, "Tomorrow's weather forecast includes rain and hail. Roads are likely to be congested for your trip to work. I've set your morning alarm forward by 20 minutes. Wear warmer clothes. Mary is leaving early, so you need to feed the dog. Work starts at 9am, and you have a 9:30am appointment with Robert, a new client, in Meeting Room C. Remember to preview Robert's application before the meeting. After work, Mary has a conference, so Grandma is picking up the children from school. Collect the children on your way home from work - I'll remind you again on your way home".

How does Siri Assist assist me when I'm not at home?

Siri Assist is always-on and always-connected to the internet at home. Its intelligent camera, microphones, speakers, and connected sensors know when you're home and when each person is not at home. It's intelligent enough to look forward in to your calendar and to-do list, prepare reminders and alerts, look at travel times and weather conditions, home automation, personal assistant features, and smart enough to communicate with other Apple devices via your universal Apple ID.

Let's say you have Siri Assist at home, and your morning got off to a flying start in line with our morning outlook scenario above. You're on your way to work. How does Siri Assist assist me when I'm not at home?

Using your Apple ID, Siri Assist can communicate with your other Apple devices - your iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch, and your cloud-based calendar, to-do list, and notes. It's aware of your travel schedule, weather, traffic, appointments, reminders, etc, and those of your family, colleagues, and friends, via their public calendars or family calendars.

In our scenario, you've left home early by car due to the rainy weather, aware of traffic congestion, and the absence of public transport at the corporate office park at your destination. During your journey, Siri Assist is at home. Siri Assist gathers GPS information information from your iPhone, and plots your normal route to work, noticing extreme congestion ahead. Siri Assist develops a narrative and passes the narrative over the internet to your iPhone. Your iPhone wakes from rest, and using its own speakers, or connected CarPlay speakers, alerts you: "Hi Xavier. Siri just noticed a traffic jam on Route 35 that will delay your arrival. I suggest taking an alternative route via Harrington Boulevard at Exit 37, about 2 miles ahead. Move toward the exit lane".

Along the way...

Along the way, Siri has transferred your iTunes music playlist from your home AirPlay speakers to your iPhone, across to your CarPlay speakers, keeping your motivational morning music playing as you transition from home to driveway to car to the road.

As you take the suggested route via Exit 37, and continue along Harrington Boulevard, approaching your office with less delay, your iPhone beeps with an incoming email.

"Hey Siri, read that new email". Siri on your iPhone reads you the new email. It's Donna, your real-life personal assistant at the office, sending you a note that Robert, your client for the morning meeting, is stuck in traffic in bad weather, and called from his Android phone to let you know he'll be late. Siri on your iPhone adjusts your morning calendar to allow for the delay. Siri Assist at home notices the update to your morning calendar, and schedules a reminder to later prompt you to review Robert's application before the meeting - the reminder is dynamic, and is scheduled to occur 3 minutes after you enter your office at work.

How does Siri Assist know that I've arrived at work? It can check your location via the GPS integrated on your iPhone, or, if you have a Siri Assist device in the reception area at your office, the integrated camera recognises you and updates your location connected to your Apple ID.

You log in to your iMac at work, and start your day. You open your work email, and start replying to a few messages from colleagues. Your iPhone and iMac pop up a reminder from Siri Assist: "Reminder: Review Robert's application before your meeting at the adjusted time of 9:45am in Meeting Room C". You finish your current email, and click the reminder, taking you to Robert's email and open Robert's attached application documents.

How does Siri Assist recognise people?

Remember - Siri Assist is mounted on the wall, not tucked away in a cabinet, so it's high enough to get good camera angles for face detection, can hear using integrated microphones, and can react using integrated speakers. It has Bluetooth, and can ping nearby devices with Bluetooth Low Energy, meaning it can communicate with any Bluetooth device, not just Apple devices.

At 9:13am, staff are arriving slightly late for work due to minor delays on public transport and very wet from walking in the rain from the station to your building. As staff arrive, the Siri Assist device in the reception lounge uses its camera to log people in to their attendance record. The built-in camera uses facial recognition software that looks-up the related Apple IDs of staff, logging them in. Alternatively, if your workplace has tighter security, Siri Assist can use Bluetooth Low Energy to ping staff's company-supplied iPhones as they enter the reception area, look-up their Apple ID and log them in to attendance.

At 9:38pm, Robert arrives in reception, but the Siri Assist camera in reception is only set up to recognise staff. Robert is a visitor. The Siri Assist device in reception pings Robert's phone using Bluetooth Low Energy protocol. It's an Android phone and can't respond to Apple's Siri service. If Robert had an iPhone, Siri Assist could ping Robert's iPhone, match his email address to his appointment with you, and let you know he has arrived. Robert manually checks-in at reception and waits for his meeting time.

At 9:40am, Dane arrives for a separate meeting. As he enters the reception area, Siri Assist pings his iPhone and looks up his Apple ID. Siri Assist cross-checks the company's staff roster and work calendar, noting that Dane is a visitor and has arrived for a meeting.

Utilising the Siri Assist App on an iPad Pro mounted behind the reception desk, the company's human receptionists get a beep, and see Dane's profile picture on the iPad, alongside a copy of the company calendar entry, showing he is here to meet Sarah in Marketing for a sales meeting. An icon on the calendar entry shows that Siri Assist has already notified Sarah that Dane has arrived. The human receptionist can then greet Dane by name, advise him that Sarah will be with him shortly, and that there's around 6 minutes remaining before their scheduled meeting time.

  • Siri Assist is multi-user and always-connected.

We know that Siri Assist will be multi-user. It has to be, otherwise how would it help more than one person? People generally don't live alone, they live in couples, families, or have house-mates, and work colleagues.

As a premium automation device, Siri Assist will be priced as a premium Apple product, so it would make sense that one device can perform more than one function, and perform multiple functions for multiple users.

How does Siri Assist define each human and each device?

Each human is defined by a single Apple ID, that is used across multiple connected devices - your iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook, Apple Watch.

Each device is defined by its network address: the MAC hardware address of its Bluetooth radio. Multi-user devices like iMacs and Apple TVs each have a Bluetooth MAC address, and in conjunction with the logged-in Apple ID, Siri Assist can see who is logged in to each hardware device.

How does Siri Assist gather information?

Information is gathered a variety of ways, using Apple ID, Bluetooth MAC, cameras, microphones; and intelligence-gathering via remote processing on Apple servers, sent and received by Siri Assist.

How does Siri Assist compose narratives for conversational interactions?

Conversational narratives are composed via a combination of local and remote processing. The Siri Assist device on your wall has its own iPhone-grade processor, storage, memory, and communication abilities. It is also internet-connected to Apple's servers and services in the Cloud, providing additional processing and composing power, and safeguarding information within Apple's ecosystem.

How does Siri Assist interact with people?

Siri Assist interacts with people in many ways:

  • Via incoming voice commands heard by its microphones

  • Via outgoing voice narratives spoken through its speakers

  • Via logging a VoicePrint to recognise each person, logged alongside their Apple ID, collected by analysing voice characteristics gathered from conversations on their iPhone

  • Via Bluetooth Low Energy communication with other devices

  • Via the Internet using your Apple ID and the Siri Assist system

  • Via services like calendars, to-do, reminders, notes, email, and so on

  • Via an integrated facial-recognition camera.

How does Siri Assist interact with multiple people?

It identifies each person individually, via their Apple ID, Bluetooth hardware MAC address, face, or voice. The Siri Assist system logs a profile for each human.

Siri Assist can communicate with multiple people simultaneously using each person's individual ID.

For example, registered users (members of a family, or members of a group of work colleagues) are often using the same device and have a stored profile. Visitors can be recognised by the camera or Bluetooth and logged as visitors. Visitors using Android, Windows Phone, or other operating systems are logged separately and can be monitored but not necessarily communicated with, unless their profile is set up manually and has been granted permission.

Families at Home:

  • On your way home from work, remind you to pick up the milk or the dry cleaning.

  • Greeting each person as they arrive home, with a voice prompt, or without a voice prompt, and setting their desired music, temperature, TV stations, reminders, and tasks as they enter or leave a zone.

  • Reminding Dad that Mum is running late and he needs to turn on the oven, do the vacuuming, or get the kids ready.

  • Check the family calendar, and remind you that Johnny has soccer practice, but it's been cancelled due to heavy rain, and Johnny is now at a friend's house instead, based on Johnny's GPS location.

  • Any one at home can ask Siri Assist to turn on the air conditioning, heating, close the blinds, start the dishwasher, close the garage door, turn off lights in other rooms, or set a reminder for chilling the wine in the freezer. These interactions are possible via HomeKit-compatible accessories.

  • From the car, check the location of registered family members (with permissions) based on the GPS locations of their iPhone or iPad.

  • If you're the only one home, have your iTunes playlist follow you from the CarPlay speakers to the home theatre AirPlay speakers in the lounge. Set your streaming preferences on the Apple TV. Turn on the coffee maker.

Colleagues at Work:

Using the Siri Assist device in the reception area at the office:

  • Log your attendance when you arrive at work, using your Apple ID or Bluetooth MAC on a work phone

  • Prepare your work iMac for you to log in

  • Pre-load your appointments from your calendar and prepare reminders

  • Open your email and scan your email for tasks, meetings, and requests

  • Notify you in your office or on your iPhone when a visitor arrives at reception for your next meeting

  • Advise you when certain colleagues or managers arrive, based on your calendar meetings or to-do list.

  • Via the Siri Assist App on an iMac or iPad, notify the human receptionist that a visitor has arrived for a meeting with a particular staff member, so they can be greeted by name, and directed pre-emptively.

How does Siri Assist communicate with other devices?

Siri Assist communicates with other devices after creating a narrative for the interaction, and interacts to provide relevant information.

For example, a Siri Assist device in the reception area of an office may use its camera for facial recognition of an employee, or send a ping via Bluetooth to the compnay-provided iPhone, and identify that person's user profile based on their face, Apple ID, or Bluetooth MAC address on the phone. This type of communication can happen on the Siri Assist device internally, using its camera and Bluetooth radio, looking up a locally stored profile or remotely-stored profile on a company server or on a cloud service.

Siri Assist can communicate with remote devices over Wifi, or to remote iPhones over a cellular data connection. For example, Derek, an employee, leaves the office with their company-issued iPhone and MacBook. The Siri Assist device in the reception area logs them leaving the office. Later, the receptionist needs to know where Derek is, and consults Siri Assist. Siri Assist looks up Derek's profile, finds his Apple ID, pings his iPhone, gathers GPS data, and advises the receptionist of Derek's location, and any matching locations for appointments. Depending on the content of the calendar entry, Siri Assist could return the names of who Derek is meeting with, the location (e.g. cafe) and the topic of the meeting as listed in the calendar. If Derek's MacBook is on and open, presenting a Keynote slide deck, Siri Assist may suggest not interrupting him at this time, or suggest sending him a text message or email, rather than initiating an intrusive phone call or FaceTime call.

  • What Technologies does Siri Assist use?

Siri Assist uses the following technologies:

Hardware:

  • iPhone grade processor, storage, memory, backup battery

  • iBeacon integration

  • Bluetooth Low Energy 4.2

  • WiFi 802.11ac

  • Ethernet

  • Two sets of dual mic arrays

  • Stereo speakers

  • One iSight facial-recognition camera with night vision

  • One USB-C port, rear-mounted for power

  • One USB-C port, side-mounted for attaching accessories

  • Mounting bracket attachment for wall plate (to hold the device while using USB-C power)

  • Mounting bracket attachment for direct connection to a wall-mounted power point.

  • Power button, volume buttons.

The USB-C accessory port can connect accessories such as additional camera modules, iBeacon or HomeKit hubs, larger speakers, other accessories, and share power.

Software:

  • iOS

  • Siri Assist device app

  • Siri Assist remote-device (iPhone/iPad) app

  • Facial Recognition software

  • Voice Recognition software

  • AirPlay streaming

  • HomeKit App

  • iBeacon App

Third party app developers can extend the software services of the Siri Assist device using the Siri Assist SDK. However, Siri Assist is based on iOS, so developers could theoretically develop their own iOS apps for the Siri Assist device.

Services:

  • Apple ID

  • Siri Assist ID

  • Siri Assist user profiles

  • iCal for calendar, to-do list, reminders, notes, etc

  • HomeKit

  • iBeacon

  • Push notifications

  • Bluetooth profiles

  • Encryption and security protocols

  • Connections to Apple services in the cloud

Siri Assist can receive iOS updates and app updates over the internet just like the iPhone and iPad, which can be initiated by the Siri Assist iPhone app, or can be scheduled to update automatically.

  • What size and shape is the Siri Assist device?

Siri Assist is a flat, tall, white, symmetrical, octagonal device, the same height as an iPhone 7 Plus.

The Siri Assist box set includes:

  • a plastic aluminium-coloured wall mounting bracket

  • a plastic aluminium-coloured power point mounting bracket

  • a glossy white plastic upright octagonal main casing, with a similar finish to the Magic Mouse

  • a grey stencilled Apple logo and the words 'Siri Assist' on the front case

  • a USB-C power cord

  • a USB-C wall power adapter

  • a user guide, quick set up guide, manual, limited warranty

  • two Apple stickers.

It is designed to be mounted on a wall, preferably mounted to a power point structure, similar to how the Nest thermostat mounts on a wall. As it is wall-mounted, it will be at an optimal height for facial recognition and audible prompts, without being obstructed in a cabinet or on a bench.

Alternatively for home use, Siri Assist can be wall-mounted with a bracket, and receive power from a USB-C cord.

Additional Modules

Additional modules can be connected via a side-mounted USB-C port. Additional modules may include additional cameras, iBeacon hubs/receivers, or other accessories, sharing communication and power via USB-C pass-through. Additional modules snap to the side of the base unit, creating a horizontally-elongated octagon.

Larger additional modules, such as larger speakers, may take the shape of an octagon the same size as the base unit, and snap together side-by-side, creating one octagon next to another, attached by USB-C plugs and the back plate.

Good quality speaker modules could even allow it to play your iTunes library and compete with Sonos.

Device Setup

Setup is completed on an iPhone or iPad using the Siri Assist device app, downloaded from the App Store.

Setup includes registering the device, assigning a Siri Assist ID, connecting to the WiFi or Ethernet network, adding Siri Assist Profiles, and completing face photos and voice prints.

  • Conclusion

Why have we waited so long for Apple to introduce a competitor to the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Google Home?

The answer: Simply because Apple needs time to produce a device that it light-years better than them.

Apple has struck gold with the Siri Assist. It sits atop the Apple ecosystem of products and services, interacts with all of them, can recognise non-Apple devices, and can communicate authentically with people, devices, scenarios, and share a narrative across many devices.

It can pass user data between Siri Assist, an iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook, Apple TV, and chain along to communicate with CarPlay and iBeacons.

Wake up in the morning to an alarm on your iPhone or the Siri Assist in your bedroom. Voice command your lights, curtains, temperature controls, coffee pot, music, and streaming morning news on TV, all with a simple phrase: "Siri Assist me with the morning chores".

As you leave the house, Siri Assist recognises your exit, and sends prompts to Siri on your iPhone. As you get in the car, Siri on your iPhone plugs in to CarPlay and carries across your music playlist, traffic, weather, maps data, reminders, appointments, and everything else.

When you arrive at work, Siri Assist in the reception area logs your attendance at work, boots your iMac, and Touch ID on your iPhone logs you in to your work iMac. Your calendar, mail, appointments, and messages carry across to your iMac.

Siri Assist at work notifies you when your colleagues, visitors, and bosses arrive for meetings and can prompt ahead to make sure you're on time, informed, and up to date. On the way home, Siri reminds you to pick up more milk.

When you get home, Siri Assist at home sets your temperature controls, curtains, AirPlay music, TV settings, turns on the coffee pot, and reminds you to put your milk in the fridge.

Along the way, Siri Assist can do web searches, look up information, find the services you use, and simplify your text-based keyboard-centric life into a voice-controlled paradise.

When will Siri Assist be available?

We anticipate Siri Assist being available in June 2017.

There is credible evidence to suggest a launch is coming.

The biggest hint so far, is that Apple quietly disbanded its router team in November 2016. The news was leaked and was jumped-on by Bloomberg on November 21, 2016. Other news outlets reported the news the same day. The router team worked on a long line of products including the successful AirPort, AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and the AirPort Time Capsule. Apple usually doesn't publicise its end-of-life products.

The staff on this team are said to have been redeployed on other projects. Could it be that development work on the Siri Assist hardware device is now complete, and the software team is now completing the software?

Lukewarm reactions to innovation at Apple in 2016 have been disappointing for CEO Tim Cook. Minor updates to the MacBook and MacBook Pro; minor updates to Apple TV; the iPhone 7 wasn't a huge success; and the outlook for the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus are looking bleak, as everyone eagerly awaits the 10th anniversary iPhone 8.

No updates have been released in 2016 for the Mac Pro desktop (2013), iMac (2014), iPad mini 2 and 4, and non-Pro model iPads (2015). Other products have been completely discontinued, including AirPort routers and the standalone Thunderbolt Display.

Microsoft has even been stealing Apple's limelight and customer base with the Surface Pro 4, the stunning Surface Studio touchscreen easel, Surface Book, Surface Dial, and the perplexing ongoing saga of Surface UltraMobile (which is not the Surface Phone).

The only real standout items for Apple in 2016 were the Touch Bar, and a new wireless keyboard and mouse with an integrated rechargeable battery. Yay, Apple - new keyboards. Oh, and they managed to squeeze in the limited release of the October-to-December-delayed AirPods wireless headphones, which are still proving to be buggy.

Apple in 2017

Apple is on track for a blockbuster 2017, releasing everything everywhere... new iMacs with USB-C, new entry-level iPads, new iPad Pros in new sizes; new iPad Pro keyboards in new sizes; new versions of macOS, iOS, tvOS, CarPlay, Maps; the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus, and the hype for the iPhone 8.

Apple needs a NEW big-bang breakthrough hot product innovation for 2017. Siri Assist is ready and waiting.

Oh, one more thing....

Siri will be a big part of the next Apple TV... which isn't an Apple TV at all.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas

XYZ Media Group

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