While the current Apple HomePod is struggling to keep up with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, Apple’s designers are looking for ways to advance the smart speaker.
A new patent, spotted by MacRumours (via The Verge), filed to the USPTO in October 2017 and published in January, hints at Apple’s plans to give a future unnamed smart speaker the ability to read a user’s physical gestures, and let them control its functions.
The document also mentions using facial recognition as part of this, identifying who users are, and also figuring out the distance between a person and the speaker. This could be used to decide which commands have priority. Considering the FaceID feature already present on the iPhone, it isn’t surprising to see Apple thinking about adding the technology to other products.
Another significant idea in the patent is giving the speaker an LED readout by adding the diodes into the body of the speaker, letting it give visual confirmation that it is receiving gesture or voice commands, as well as displaying images and text, as the rather simple patent illustration below shows.
The speaker would use its voice/gesture reading abilities to change what the LEDs display, the patent outlines. The example it gives is when it detects its user is stressed, it might change the color of its lights, either to match your mood, or try to improve it. Alternatively, it could display a visual suitable for the time or place, be it a quiet area, a room with a large number of people in it, or something relevant to the current weather, sports event or holiday.
Equally, it could be used to display a humanoid or emoji avatar which would react accordingly instead. This avatar would also theoretically read out your emails or messages, and make a fitting expression based on its analysis of the key words in the message.
A final small idea is fitting the speaker with an accelerometer or gyroscope, so that if it recognized that it had been moved, it could then ask if the user wants it to reconfigure its settings for its new location.
All of this is just words on paper for now. But it's still interesting to see how future generations of the HomePod might gain the power of empathy.