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Report: Apple testing local dictation feature in iOS 7 betas

updated 09:25 pm EDT, Fri July 5, 2013

Would allow for quicker dictation, but at a possible cost

Code found inside the iOS 7 beta by a researcher has revealed that Apple is at least experimenting with the idea of supporting offline dictation abilities, similar to the current dictation available on the iPhone 4S and 5 but without the need to do offline processing on Apple's servers. Currently, dictation software on iOS (either from Dragon Dictation or the built-in dictation) relies on back-end cloud processing and thus an Internet connection, which can sometimes mean delays and unwanted (albeit tiny) amounts of data usage. Local dictation support, however, would require more storage, battery and processor -- as it does on some Android devices that have local dictation.

The functionality discovered in the iOS 7 betas is not yet complete or available, and it is unclear if Apple intends to offer the feature in iOS 7 or is just experimenting for future devices. If the company can find a way to overcome the limitations inherent in local dictation -- which usually entails a very large vocabulary file and requires desktop-level processing power and RAM, which on a mobile device might cause a noticeable shortening of battery life -- it would boost reaction times considerably and make any voice-oriented service, such as Siri, more responsive.

The feature is already available in betas of OS X Mavericks, and on Macs has the processing power to provide live appearance of the words as the speaker speaks. However, the data file supplementing the technology is a few hundred megabytes in size, a serious concern for a mobile device.

Apple may be considering a system that would still use the cloud back-end processing except when service was unavailable, then relying on a slimmed-down, more-limited-vocabulary version that would be better optimized for mobile. Surveys have indicated that most English language speakers only use about 300 or so words in some 70 percent of all written material, out of the roughly 172,000 actively-used English language words.

Offline dictation would suggest a substantial improvement in battery power to offset the current requirements. The next iPhone model is thought to be sporting a more advanced processor, commonly referred to as the A7, but this has not been confirmed.

by MacNN Staff



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