The patent describes a "smart dock for activating a voice recognition mode of a portable electronic device". The dock itself would feature a microphone and speaker, which could charge the iPhone either through a connector or wireless energy transfer.
Although the patent was granted this week, it was filed in 2012, a year after Siri debuted on the iPhone.
The patent outlines a key problem Apple was looking to solve, namely that Siri could only be used if the device was within the user's reach. As it notes in the patent, voice assistant features usually require the user to touch the phone to activate it, which isn't convenient for the user and restrictive for Siri.
"In order to utilize the various functionalities provided by a portable electronic device, a user typically must interact with their device using finger controls and/or a graphical user interface (GUI) included on their device. However, such interaction requires that the portable electronic device be in close proximity to the user (e.g., in the user's hand)," Apple writes.
"If the user is not proximate to their portable electronic device (e.g., if their device is connected to a charging power source on the other side of the room), the user may be unable to utilize the various services provided by their device in a timely and convenient manner."
The HomePod solves this problem but also serves Apple's interests better by providing a hook into homes for Apple Music. Unlike Amazon's Echo there is no option to use third-party apps like Spotify, leaving Apple Music and Apple Maps the only voice-activated services available on the HomePod.
A smart dock that relies on Siri in the iPhone on the other hand would allow users to launch other apps, which would be a desirable feature. However, it's hard to see Apple introducing a device that could compete with HomePod and its potential for data collection and services revenue.