Apple set to challenge Amazon and Google with big move into smart-home gadget market

Apple Inc. is working on a slate of devices aimed at challenging Inc. and Google in the smart-home market, including new displays and a faster TV set-top box, after relaunching its larger HomePod speaker.

The push into smart displays will start with a tablet product — essentially a low-end iPad — that can control things like thermostats and lights, show video and handle FaceTime chats, people with knowledge of the plans said. The product could be mounted on walls or elsewhere using magnetic fasteners, positioning it as more of a home gadget than a regular iPad.

Apple has also discussed the idea of ​​building larger smart-home displays, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.

While the iPad already has smart-home features, standalone smart-home devices — often designed as countertop or wall-mounted appliances — have grown increasingly popular. Amazon sells a line of Echo Show products with displays, while Google offers its Nest Hub. And the latter company — part of Alphabet Inc. — is preparing a Pixel Tablet with an optional stand. Apple has also discussed creating a home stand for its current iPads.

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant has struggled in the home space and has ceded much of the market to its rivals. Its current devices remain limited in their functionality, with Apple’s Siri voice-control service lagging behind Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. The new devices — along with upcoming changes to Siri — are aimed at turning around Apple’s fortunes.

A representative for Apple declined to comment.

Earlier Wednesday, Apple rolled out the new HomePod speaker. The $299 device is a revamped version of the original, running the same chip as last year’s Apple Watch. It has an updated media panel on the top and a new sensor for determining the temperature inside a user’s home. Bloomberg reported that the new speaker was imminent earlier this year. The temperature monitor first appeared in the HomePod mini in 2021, although it wasn’t yet functional at the time.

The original HomePod was discontinued in 2021 after mediocre sales, with customers balking at the price and limited functionality. It was initially launched at $349 before a price cut — a rare move for Apple — took it down to $299. Apple introduced a $99 HomePod mini in 2020 that has proven to be more popular, taking about 13% of the smart-speaker market, according to Strategy Analytics.

As part of its pursuit of smart-home customers, Apple has agreed to support the new Matter protocol, which lets rival gadgets work together. The company also recently redesigned the Home app that helps control its devices.

Beyond the future smart displays and new speakers, Apple is working on revamping its TV box. A new version with the current design is in the works for the first half of next year with a faster processor, the people said.

Apple last updated its TV device in October, giving it the iPhone 14’s A15 chip and a remote control that uses the USB-C standard. Despite regular efforts to improve the product, the Apple TV box has made limited headway in the market. It holds only a 5% share, according to Insider Intelligence, compared with 30% for Amazon and 28% for Roku Inc.

While the new version will support an upgraded chip, it likely won’t support 8K video streaming, a still nascent video format.

Work on a long-anticipated product that would combine the TV box with a smart speaker and FaceTime camera has also suffered setbacks, although that project is still ongoing. The device was initially targeted for release this year, but the timing has slipped. Likewise, the smart displays have seen their development schedules delayed and likely won’t launch until next year at the earliest.

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