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Apple iOS 5 Beta Hints At Voice Commands

A beta version of iOS 5 released to developers over the weekend contains mostly bug fixes, but a few new features have been spied.
In a slightly surprising move, Apple made the fifth iOS 5 beta available to developers on Saturday. In the past, Apple has made the betas available during the work week. Apple typically releases iOS betas every couple of weeks between the initial announcement and its eventual availability. In this case, iOS 5 was announced in June at WWDC, and will be available this fall.

The full changelog for iOS 5 beta five is extensive, but there's really only one that we're interested in. 9to5Mac spotted several screens in iOS 5 beta five that include a little microphone built into the software QWERTY keyboard. The assumption is that this foretells the inclusion of voice actions and/or voice commands in the new version of iOS.

There were a significant number of reports earlier this year that noted Apple's collaborations with Nuance Communications. Sure, iOS users can download Nuance's Dragon Dictation and use it to convert spoken words into typed text and then paste it into an email or text message, but that's about as far as it goes. Voice commands/actions aren't built into iOS.

Google, meanwhile, has voice-enabled every text field within Android, which lets users dictate text into anyplace it is possible to type. Google even went so far as to circumvent Apple a bit with support for voice search in the official Google Search app for iOS. Further, Android users can perform actions such as "Call Bob's Cell" and have their phone automatically perform that action. iOS 5 hasn't added any of these. Yet.

When Apple previewed iOS 5 back in June, it made no mention of voice commands. In fact, I wrote at the time that it was one of the top five things left out of iOS 5. Many were surprised by the omission. However, Apple has in the past added features to software that weren't initially called out by the company in its crafted keynote addresses.

Does the presence of this little microphone symbol mean that iOS 5 will add voice actions with certainty? No, it doesn't. But Apple bought a company called Siri back in April 2010. Siri is a software maker that specializes in voice-driven search software. By tying together various APIs from across the Web, from such services as OpenTable, Twitter, and Rotten Tomatoes, among many others, Siri has concocted a voice search that relies more on natural speech. With so many services to search, Siri also specializes in directing its software to find the right service for the best answer.

The combination of Apple's acquisition of Siri, its past collaborations with Nuance, and that teeny little microphone could all add up to some really neat new features for iPhone and iPad users.

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