Voice search for the iPhone? Maybe someday

Nuance, maker of Dragon Naturally Speaking for the desktop, says it has developed a prototype for voice search on Apple's iPhone.

For years, people have wondered when they would be able to voice a command to a digital device, have it understand the query, and respond with some degree of intelligence. That day still isn't here, but speech-technology companies like Nuance are working on it.

On Tuesday, Nuance, maker of Dragon Naturally Speaking for the desktop, said that it has developed a prototype for voice search on Apple's iPhone. In August, the company plans to start selling a downloadable application for the iPhone that lets them speak a question to the phone to retrieve search results from Google or another search engine, according to Steve Chambers, Nuance's president of mobile and consumer services. Chambers said that Nuance hasn't set a price for the application yet.

The prototype, called open-voice search, demonstrates that with a click of a button, people can ask a question, such as "cholesterol of a cheeseburger?" to call up search results without typing on a keyboard. Nuance's application sends the audio file to the company's servers, transcribes it, and then sends it back to the phone's search box for results. Also, in the course of a person's use, Nuance will create a unique acoustical model that learns how that individual speaks. That way, it can deliver more accurate translations over time.

Up next: Nuance plans to tackle voice dictation for SMS, e-mail, and instant chat messages on the iPhone. And even further out would be voice commands for playing music or map directions.

To work well, that kind of iPhone search would require Apple to license the software--which is Nuance's ultimate goal. But there's no indication that the highly proprietary Apple would turn to an outsider for speech technology. One of these days we'll have speech-recognition software.

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    Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.

     

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