The iCloud, Nuance voice-control, and the iPhone 5: A rumor

With iOS 5 on the brink of announcement, and the iPhone 5 rumored to be on the horizon — arriving some time in the fall — it’s no wonder that people are curious about the role that Nuance may have in bringing better voice controls to Apple’s mobile devices, including those that have yet to be announced. The rumor on the street has Nuance and Apple teaming up to bring natural language processing to the iPhones of the future, possibly starting with the iPhone 5.

A quick backstory

Apple, as you may know, purchased Siri around this time last year (April 2010), the application that lets users ask their phone questions, instead of having to type them in with a keyboard. The application would then process the results, and return answers to your questions. If you wanted to know where the closest Starbucks was located, you’d just ask. Pretty neat stuff, and obviously something that many could see as incredibly useful in the future.

Since Apple’s acquisition of Siri, we’ve heard various rumors that Siri-based technologies would find their way into iOS. Most recently these rumors have included inclusion in iOS 5, as well as the iPhone 5 moving forward.

A short time after Apple’s acquisition of Siri last year, Woz let it slip that Apple purchased Nuance. While that particular rumor was debunked and retracted by Woz himself (it was a slip of the tongue), a lot of people began trying to connect the dots between Nuance and Apple. You see, Siri relied on Nuance technologies to process the language and then delegate the information to a growing number of web services, which would then analyze the questions and return surprisingly accurate results.

Fast forward to today.

Now on to today’s news, and its iPhone 5 potential

So now we have a connection between Apple Inc. and Nuance, although just how deep that relationship goes at this point is anyone’s guess. According to MG Siegler over at TechCrunch, Apple may already be using Nuance technologies in their new data center in North Caronlina.

Siegler goes on to point out in his article that the partnership, no matter how deep, could be part of an announcement at WWDC in June. He also states that the major reasons Apple would want to partner with, or purchase, Nuance include:

  • Being able to process voice commands quicker in the server farm than on the iPhone.
  • Eliminating third-party access to the information.
  • Apple being able to build and innovate with the technology.

Purchasing Nuance, just like Siegler suggests, wouldn’t be extremely beneficial given market forces and the current value of Nuance.

But, what does make a ton of sense is getting Nuance and Siri technologies directly into iOS. It’s pretty obvious that natural language processing is a huge part of our future. Being able to speak to our technology and have that technology understand us is something only imagined in science fiction movies until recently. But, there’s no denying the potential power it could have. Siri is a recent testament to that.

The question remains, is society ready to talk to their computers, and will any tools that force users to talk to a machine be accepted by the general public? Most didn’t think that touch interfaces were ready for primetime, but the iPhone sure changed that. Voice processing could very well be the next frontier. Imagine how simple it would be to relay a text message to your iPhone 5 with a voice command instead of using the virtual buttons. We bet that RIM didn’t see that potential coming down the pipeline of the future.

The iPhone 5 could make that happen if Apple were to make a Nuance/Apple relationship announcement at WWDC 2011. But, it could also turn us into a bunch of zombies walking around shouting into our phones in public. If you thought bluetooth headsets were terrible, imagine a room full of people talking to their phones to send a tweet.

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