How Apple Might Bring Siri to the Masses

When Apple (NAS: AAPL) unveiled the third-generation iPad earlier this month, there was a notable omission than many (including myself) were expecting: Siri. The Mac maker's virtual assistant is pretty clearly a big initiative by Cupertino to embrace voice-recognition technology as a viable input medium, so Siri's absence was a bit of a surprise.

In hindsight, the reasons for leaving it out became clear. Siri relies on a network connection, which isn't always available on all iPads as it is on the iPhone 4S (the only device to currently include Siri). There has also been some evidence that Siri has been getting less intelligent over the months, possibly because of reduced bandwidth after soaring demand. However, the lack of constant connection is the clearest and most explanatory reason.

Setting the stage
When I spoke with Jim Greenwell, CEO of small voice-recognition software company Datria, last week, he helped enlighten me to some major trends taking place in the industry. Once upon a time, devices with voice-recognition capabilities were self-contained and all of the requisite pieces of the process were housed within the device. This includes the application software layer, the backend speech-recognition engine, and the processing hardware.

The main downside to that approach is that the user is limited to the processing power of the device. This is why many players in the industry are opting to use server-based approaches now. Nuance Communications (NAS: NUAN) is the leading provider of the speech-recognition engine that resides on servers (including Apple's), while the application software layer -- Siri, in this case -- usually sits on the device.

Now you're not being held back by the relatively limited processing power in your local gadget but can rather call down the raw computing power of the cloud to do the heavy lifting with its server farms. The only potential disadvantage is the reliance on network connectivity, which is becoming less of a concern as people are increasingly connected.

Back to the Mac
AppleInsider recently uncovered a patent application that details how Cupertino could address this conundrum and bring Siri's functionalities to other devices like Macs. The patent application was actually originally filed by Apple in September 2010 but was just now released publicly. It would involve a way to pair two devices together, and you'd be able to control the second device through voice interactions with the first.

This way, the first device could provide the needed connection lifeline and relay data to the paired second device. The possibilities here are endless. Apple includes laptop and desktop computers as possible pairing candidates, in addition to cameras or music players, among other things.

Remember when I envisioned a Siri-powered iPhone remote for the mythical Apple TV set that's probably in the pipeline as we speak? This patent application lays the foundation for that dream to become a reality.

Apple could potentially use Bluetooth for the pairing process, since the technology is already featured on just about all Apple products for short-range pairing and communication. Cupertino has just now started moving its devices to the more power-efficient Bluetooth 4.0. Or it could use Wi-Fi as it does with AirPlay.

There have been rumors that Apple will add Bluetooth support for AirPlay, so the company might be trending toward that technology in general anyway.

It's worth noting that Apple files for tons of patents that never make their way to market, but this one seems rather promising.

Siri: the new universal remote
The patent application even details ways to teach Siri new commands, kind of like programming any other type of universal remote. You could teach it how to turn on music on another device by saying "Play" while pressing the play button on the second gadget.

There are already hints that Siri is bound to get expanded functionalities, such as serving up sports scores. If Apple were to open up Siri's application programming interfaces, to third-party developers, the only limit would be the imagination of Apple's army of iOS developers, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Cupertino really doesn't even have a choice anymore, either, because if it doesn't do this, then Google (NAS: GOOG) will. The company is rumored to be working on its own voice-recognition software for its Android operating systems. One thing's for sure -- expect the competition to heat up. Apple will soon have some competition in this space.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorEvan Niuhas a synthetic long options position on Nuance Communications and owns shares of Apple and Nuance Communications, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Google, Apple, and Nuance Communications and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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