Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Zax

A View from David Zax

How to Make Future iPhone Users Less Annoying

The raging, loud bar and the stern, silent library are the new frontiers for the iPhone, with new patents that will let you answer your phone in both places–without making enemies.

  • May 23, 2011

Have you ever gotten an important phone call while in a crowded bar, but were unable to answer it? The lovable fanboys over at Patently Apple say that Cupertino is on the case, working on tech that could make its way into a future iteration of the iPhone. A pair of patent applications shows how Apple is hard at work on both text-to-speech and speech-to-text converters that could make it possible for you to answer the phone in that crowded bar–or, for that matter, in a pin-drop quiet library.

So let’s play out, first, that scenario of the crowded bar. You’re at O’Malley’s, and you get that phone call from your grandmother that you just have to take, even though Bon Jovi is blaring in the background. So you pick up the phone, and here’s where Apple’s tech would kick in. First of all, the iPhone could be smart enough to detect that the noise level is so great that you can’t hear her, and she can’t hear you. The phone could then automatically activate, or prompt you to activate, a text-to-speech conversion mechanism. (It could also play a pre-recorded message for grandma explaining the situation to her, and the weird technological game that’s about to ensue.)

You would then start, essentially, texting your grandmother instead of speaking to her. Apple’s text-to-speech tech would then play back what you’re saying to her, presumably more or less instantly. Grandma could then text you back. And if she doesn’t have a cell phone? No worries, Apple’s patent envisions working the inverse, as well: your grandmother could simply speak into her old rotary phone, and Apple’s servers would convert that into text for you to read at the pub.

Apple applied for a second, related, patent, too. Say you’re in the library or another quiet place, and you want to answer that phone call but need a few seconds before you can get into the hallway to speak. The other patent introduces the idea of an “incoming call hold mechanism.” Get a call, press the relevant button, and the call will be answered but immediately put on hold, together with a pre-recorded message telling the person on the line to sit tight while you’re getting to a situation in which you can speak.

Voice recognition is anticipated to be a large part of the next generation of iOS; Apple acquired Siri, the makers of a “virtual personal assistant” that relies on voice recognition tech, and reports recently emerged to the effect that Apple was in big negotiations with Nuance, leaders in the voice recognition space. It’s not clear whether the newly spotted patents are directly related to Siri or Nuance, though presumably the technology would all be integrated.

Hear more about voice recognition at EmTech MIT 2017.

Register now

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.