Apple (News - Alert) has been busy lately, positioning for breaking new ground on a couple of different fronts—and in one case, quite literally. The computing darling is testing out a next generation for visual voicemail that incorporates a voice-to-text functionality, could launch its own wireless service, and has made a mysterious land purchase. Could these things all be related?
Business Insider has reported that employees are testing a voicemail service that uses Siri to answer your calls and transcribe voicemail messages. It’s expected to launch next year, to coincide with the Apple iOS 10 update in 2016.
Here’s how it works, according to BI:
“When someone using iCloud Voicemail is unable to take a call, Siri will answer instead of letting the call go to a standard digital audio recorder. iCloud Voicemail can relay information about where you are and why you can't pick up the phone to certain people. But the coolest feature of the service is that Siri will transcribe any incoming voicemails, just as it does with anything else you say to it.”
Siri is prepping for another update as well: The voice assistant will be able to search within applications starting with the iOS 9 upgrade.
Meanwhile, Apple is working on an entirely different portion of the mobile ecosystem, with reports about it being in talks to launch an MVNO in both the U.S. and Europe. The Siri update dovetails nicely here as it positions Apple to control more of the application stack; voicemail is typically a carrier network service.
BI reported that Apple is privately trialing service in the U.S., but that it is also in talks with telecom companies in Europe. In both cases, Apple would wholesale the network for its own branded wireless service. Apple already has rolled out SIM cards that can seamlessly roam from carrier to carrier to deliver the best service in a given international region, so prepping iPhones and iPads for a white-label service would require little retrofitting.
In any event the launch is not imminent—sources told BI that a launch could be as much as five years away.
And finally, it appears that the Cupertino giant is also sinking more into its R&D efforts—or, possibly, manufacturing. Or perhaps something else entirely, like an Area 51-esque, top-secret prototype lab.
It has bought a 43-acre development site in North San Jose for $138 million, and according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, the move has fomented a great deal of speculation as to what exactly Apple could be up to.
The site is approved for up to 2.8 million square feet of office space, but Apple is already building out a huge new office area, dubbed the “Spaceship,” or the Apple Campus 2. It will include about 600,000 square feet of additional office/R&D space.
"It feels strange timing to be buying more land to be building more office space,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, speaking to SVBJ. “The whole point of the spaceship is you have enough office space. That makes me lean toward an explanation that it’s not office — something to do with building stuff as opposed to just desks and employees.”
Manufacturing is another possibility, although given Apple’s extensive third-party relationships in cost-effective China, this also seems a stretch.
"San Jose seems unlikely [for a factory], unless you need people from Cupertino closely supervising it," Dawson said. "That again lends credence to the idea that this is brand new, something that Apple wants to keep under wraps."
Could it be ground zero for the development of a Siri-led, bells-and-whistles premium wireless service and an accompanying array of connected Internet of Things devices? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that Apple is in the middle of exploring new paths forward, at the very least.
The news comes after Apple turned in a record fiscal third quarter (ended in June).
The growth was fueled by record third quarter sales of iPhone (News - Alert) and Mac, all-time record revenue from services and the successful launch of Apple Watch. Year-over-year growth accelerated from the first half of fiscal 2015, with revenue up 33 percent and earnings per share up 45 percent. But, international sales accounted for 64 percent of the quarter’s revenue—indicating that freshening up its stable of things to offer in the U.S. should be a priority going forward.
“We had an amazing quarter, with iPhone revenue up 59 percent over last year, strong sales of Mac, all-time record revenue from services, driven by the App Store, and a great start for Apple Watch,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The excitement for Apple Music has been incredible, and we’re looking forward to releasing iOS 9, OS X El Capitan and watchOS 2 to customers in the fall.”