Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 5 could contain voice-based features that would provide extra security and allow iPhone owners to order the device to do things for them.
AppleInsider, a blog devoted to Apple-watching, reported that the company had applied last year for a patent that would allow the phone to identify its owner’s voice. This facility could be used to trigger access to different custom-tailored services and prevent strangers from using them.
This application came on top of earlier reports that Apple is preparing to incorporate functions from Siri, a voice-based app developer it acquired in 2010, into upcoming products.
These would allow users to get the phone to do things such as call a friend, set up playlists based on certain criteria, or find new songs that the user might like, the blog reported.
Apple said it did not comment on rumours and speculation about unreleased products.
Reliable voice recognition technology has been a focus of computer science for decades but it has proved a tough nut to crack.
Firstly, people’s voices can change significantly when they have a cold or suffer a hangover. This makes reliability an issue.
Secondly, it is hard for computers to understand natural language. It takes a lot of high-speed processing to deliver a result in an acceptable time.
Doing this on a smartphone may be possible with multi-core multi-processor engineering, but cooling and battery life are likely to be limiting factors.
Possibly because of this, Apple’s patent application relies on a library of words the owner might use, such as the names of his or her contacts, and the names of the songs on playlists.
Recognising key words rather than whole sentences would take less processing, but it would require clever programming to convert keywords into fulfilling the right task.