The project—designed to control appliances, locks, lights, and curtains via voice activation—has entered prototype testing, Bloomberg reports.
In an attempt to stand out from other smart speakers like the Echo and Google's upcoming Home device, Cupertino is using more advanced microphone and speaker technology. It may also employ facial recognition to help identify who is in the room or a person's emotional state, according to Bloomberg.
The unnamed product—what would be the company's most significant hardware release since the Apple Watch—is expected to include iPhone-like Siri commands. Users could, for instance, ask the device to read emails, send text messages, post to social media, and stream music. Bloomberg also tipped the integration of mapping data, allowing the hub to inform owners of the best time to leave the house to beat traffic.
Apple did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment.
The tech titan first showed interest in home automation more than two years ago, with the introduction of HomeKit, which lets gadget makers link their smart home devices to iOS. Tell Siri to "get ready for bed," for example, and HomeKit-linked devices could make sure the garage door is closed, the thermostat is lowered, and the lights are dimmed.
Cupertino engineers are reportedly testing the Echo rival in their homes right now—a common practice by Apple before launching new products, Bloomberg says.
Google's Home device, meanwhile, is expected this year; look for more details at the company's Oct. 4 event in San Francisco.
Earlier this month, Amazon introduced a cheaper Echo Dot speaker for $49.99—$40 less than the original model, which arrived in March. Like its taller Echo sibling, the Dot gives access to Amazon's voice-powered personal assistant Alexa.