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This article was published on May 7, 2011

Apple attempts to perfect iPhone 5 voice control with Nuance

Apple attempts to perfect iPhone 5 voice control with Nuance
Matthew Panzarino
Story by

Matthew Panzarino

Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter. Matthew Panzarino was Managing Editor at TNW. He's no longer with the company, but you can follow him on Twitter.

When Apple introduced voice control to the iPhone with iOS 3.0, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. It was just too awkward and inaccurate. Now Techcrunch reports that Apple is negotiating with speech recognition company Nuance to give the iPhone 5 the voice control perfection it needs.

Nuance doesn’t just do voice recognition, it’s also into imaging and keypad solutions, but it’s primarily known for doing the heavy lifting for a multitude of products and businesses when it comes to crunching speech data.

One such company is Siri, a voice command interpreter that allowed users to do all sorts of interesting things via voice command. Apple purchased the ‘voice concierge’ app early last year and at the time many were wondering exactly how it was going to use Siri’s capabilities to enhance the iPhone.

Siri uses Nuance to do the heavy lifting of processing speech into data. It then interprets and uses that data in interesting ways like firing up an app, writing a text message or checking email. It’s a slick enough system for Apple to have plopped down in the ballpark of $200 million for the technology.

Multiple sources have now indicated that Apple has been in negotiations to purchase Nuance for some time, perhaps even since the moment that Siri was acquired. Apparently Apple has made multiple attempts to negotiate with Nuance since then but has been stymied by the asking price. Apple is cash rich but also stubbornly opposed to overpaying for a product and Nuance is valued at a record high of $6 billion at the moment.

That valuation is largely due to licensing deals that would be severed if Apple purchased Nuance wholesale. This would mean a fairly large loss in value the moment that the purchase went through. That’s why, the sources say, a licensing deal for Nuance’s services seems more likely at this point than an outright purchase.

This is counter-balanced by the fact that Apple hates to license technologies and has been working to divest themselves of reliance on outside technologies for some time. One of the more recent examples of this is Apple’s replacement of Skyhook’s location services with their own in-house tech.

Regardless of whether Apple licenses or purchases the technology outright, it’s clear that it wants this technology bad. Bad enough to purchase Siri without having the core technologies that make it possible locked down first. This points to the addition of some serious iPhone voice command upgrades in iOS 5 and subsequently the iPhone 5.

With the crackdown of many states on operation of phones while driving, it’s increasingly difficult to access functions like navigation and music playback on an iPhone without the risk of a ticket, not to mention that it’s simply dangerous to do so at all. Improved voice control could help solve these issues, especially if features like that of Siri, backed with Nuance technology, become a part of the next iPhone at the OS level.

The preview of iOS 5 at WWDC will be the first chance we have to see if a new form of enhanced voice control will be a part of iOS 5, it should be interesting.

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