Apple already makes devices that sit in our pockets, on our wrists and atop our desks. Next, it may be coming for us in an even bigger way.

Apple is looking into the idea of developing a home robot, according to Bloomberg. The tech giant reportedly has two concepts in mind: a robot that can move around the home, and a tabletop robotic device. The report cautions that the robotics initiative is in early stages and may not lead to a final product.

Apple is far from being the first company to explore home robotics. But efforts to make the sci-fi trope of a robotic home butler a reality have largely fallen short for two big reasons: Such devices are usually expensive, and they also lack unique functionality that feels substantially different from existing technologies like phones, connected cameras and smart speakers. 

Apple, being one of the world’s most influential technology companies, has some major advantages that startups in the robotics space have lacked. But it still faces the daunting task of proving that robots deserve a place in the home. 

Apple didn’t respond to CNET’s request for comment. 

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What would an Apple robot do?

Apple video Collaboration FaceTime calls on iPad

Apple’s FaceTime app shown on an iPad.

Screenshot by CNET

Apple initially wanted to create an autonomous and roving videoconferencing robot that could potentially also help with chores, according to Bloomberg. But the report described the housework functionality as a “pie-in-the-sky” idea rather than a feasible project, because of the engineering involved. Still, the idea sounds similar to Amazon’s goals with its own Astro robot, which can serve as a mobile Alexa bot and security camera.

The second, tabletop idea is further along and less ambitious from an engineering standpoint, though Bloomberg says it’s come and gone from Apple’s product road map. Based on the report, it sounds like this would be a smart display that can move, similar to Amazon’s Echo Show 10. Amazon’s device can reposition its display and the built-in camera to keep users in frame during video calls and to view its surroundings when it’s functioning as a home security camera.

Apple’s idea reportedly involves having the smart display move in a way that mimics head movements, such as nodding, during FaceTime calls. It would also be able to focus on specific people during calls, Bloomberg reports, which sounds like Apple’s Center Stage feature for iPads. 

The challenges with home robots

Amazon Astro on the floor of a house

Amazon’s Astro is a lot more than an Echo Show on wheels.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to a home robot is that the market is unproven. 

Amazon’s Astro, which the company announced in September 2021, may be the most high-profile attempt to bring robots into the home. But more than two years later, it’s still labeled as being part of Amazon’s experimental Day 1 Editions program and requires an invite to purchase. It also costs $1,600, making it more expensive than an iPhone and iPad combined, depending on the model. 

Though Amazon has updated Astro with new features, like the ability to detect pets, and released a security-oriented version for businesses, the company hasn’t said much else about the robot’s future. 

Smaller companies, without Amazon’s and Apple’s broad influence and deep resources, have also attempted to popularize home robots, to no avail. Take Jibo, a 2017-era robot that emerged just as voice-enabled smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home were picking up steam. 

The creators behind Jibo tried to distinguish the bot by giving it an adorable personality, but its functionality was ultimately too limited compared with other home assistants. And at $899, Jibo was much pricier than most smart speakers — many of which supported a lot more features and integrations. 

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The Jibo home robot.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smart toy maker Anki made headlines in 2013 after appearing in the keynote presentation at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The company impressed with its adorable, Pixar-like Cozmo robot STEM toy back in 2016, but the operation closed its doors in 2019 after a financial deal fell through, according to a Vox report at the time.  

Kuri, a similarly charismatic home companion, from a company called Mayfield Robotics, is another example of a digital helper that met an untimely end. 

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The Anki Cozmo robotic toy.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Taken together, the downfalls of Jibo, Anki and Kuri are cautionary tales that underscore the challenges companies face when bringing robotics into the home. While these robots felt fun, innovative and impressive in certain ways, they weren’t practical enough to justify their high costs. 

Apple also hasn’t established as large a presence in the home as some of its rivals, which could make it difficult to commercialize a new product category in that area. Amazon’s original Echo became a surprise hit following its unveiling in late 2014, helping to create a new market for internet-connected speakers. 

Now, almost a decade later, Amazon still holds the lead, with more than 45% of US smart speaker shipments in 2023, according to figures provided to CNET by the International Data Corporation. Apple by comparison places third, after Google. 

Apple’s advantages

The Apple logo next to a smartphone with the number 17 on the screen

Rafael Henrique/Getty Images

Though developing a smart and capable robot at the right price remains a challenge, Apple does have some elements working in its favor. For one, judging from Bloomberg’s report it sounds like Apple may already have some of the technology for a home robot in place, from its scrapped car project.

FaceTime is also among the most well-known video calling apps, which could make an Apple personal robot more appealing. That’s especially true for the potential tabletop robot mentioned in Bloomberg’s report, which sounds like it would be designed for more-immersive FaceTime interactions. Apple also has a better reputation than many tech companies when it comes to personal privacy, a factor that could make customers feel more comfortable with a robotic presence in the home.

It’s important to remember, too, that technology has come a long way since Jibo’s, Anki’s and Kuri’s short-lived time in the spotlight. Advancements in artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI, could make new home robots much more capable and clever, possibly helping them carry out more-natural conversations and perform tasks on our behalf more efficiently.

There’s been a lot of speculation about Apple chasing its next iPhone moment with new products like the Vision Pro headset. The robot, according to Bloomberg, would likely be another such attempt. 

But as I wrote last year, don’t expect Apple’s next iPhone moment to look like the original iPhone moment in 2007. The world is simply too different now, and Apple’s biggest hits in recent years have felt more like slow burns than overnight successes. Just look at the way the Apple Watch helped popularize health and fitness tracking, and how AirPods changed the headphone industry. Those products had a gradual impact on how we use technology. 

If Apple does develop a home robot, I imagine the company will position the product in a way that’s similar to how it’s touting the Vision Pro: by calling it a new type of computer. Perhaps one that combines the best aspects of your iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and iPhone and can move all by itself. 

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