Apple acquired a small mobile voice-controlled virtual assistant app in April called Siri. The app lets you talk in natural language and ask for things like dinner reservations, directions and other tasks, and the app will use the phone's location system, contacts and other apps to make it all happen intelligently.
According to a post in the blog 9to5Mac, Siri technology has been spotted inside the upcoming iOS 5 version of operating system that powers iPhones.
The voice-command part of Siri is based on technology by Nuance, the leader in desktop voice command and dictation. It also happens that Nuance itself is one of Apple's closest and newest partners.
A report in the blog TechCrunch revealed that much of Apple’s giant new billion-dollar data center in North Carolina has been dedicated to powering Nuance voice recognition technology.
Clearly, Apple is preparing massively for a voice-controlled future, where millions of users are talking to their Apple devices.
I believe Apple's strategy is to mirror their successful plan on keyboards -- change people's behavior with mobile phones, then move that behavior up the chain all the way to the desktop.
Voice-command is the secret sauce that will make giant desktop touch tablets possible. Nobody wants to use a touch screen for every input, to replace everything we do today with mouse and keyboard. But a combination of talking and touching will prove very compelling.
Apple's mobile virtual assistant technology will be nice, but the ultimate purpose of it is to enable Apple to lead the future of desktop computing, which will be giant, voice-command and gesture-controlled touch tablets.
Google also wants to steal the future of computing from Microsoft. That company has already been busy training users to talk to their handhelds. One of the coolest and most popular features of their general mobile app is voice-command search. You press a button and talk. Google does a great job of recognizing what you say, then turning it into a Google search.
Google has more than just voice-command search in store for us. Late last year, then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, told the Wall Street Journal:
“Let's say you're walking down the street. Because of the info Google has collected about you, ‘we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.’ Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are. Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities: If you need milk and there's a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk.”
While milk-loving people everywhere will love the mobile Google app of the near future, the ultimate end game, I believe, is the future of computing in general. Schmidt laid out a very clear vision for this future some four years ago. He suggested that by 2012, “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’”
In other words, Google wants to start with being your personal assistant on your phone, but get promoted to being a personal advisor, counselor and consigliere. They’ll start with helping with your errands, and end up giving you career counseling.
The era of the voice-command virtual assistant in your phone is upon us. But that’s just the beginning. Once Apple and Google train us to talk to our mobiles, it’s just a matter of time before they have us talking to all our computers. Just like on Star Trek.