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Apple has been expected to add voice recognition personal assistant features to iOS since its acquisition of Siri last year. The company has also listed jobs for positions including an "iOS Speech Operations Engineer," which sought candidates familiar with products such as Nuance Recognizer, IBM WebSphere Voice and Google Voice.
Voice related features are just the latest area where Apple has retreated from its original iPhone partnerships with Google following the competitive development of Android, which Google leads. Apple has since added search support for Microsoft Bing, has developed its own iAd mobile advertising program, and is believed to be working on mapping technologies independently from its once close partnership with Google.
Google is well ahead of Apple in a variety of voice-based technologies, already having integrated support for various services in Android, some of which it also makes available to iOS users (including Google Translate).
According to a report by Tech Crunch, Apple is deepening its relationship with Nuance, and already running the firm's software in its massive new North Carolina data center. The company has until now only officially reported that the new data center will support iTunes and MobileMe services, without detailing exactly what types of services it would be hosting.
Apple's Siri acquisition was dependent upon Nuance technology, likely the reason why Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak once stated that Apple had purchased Nuance, an error he later corrected. Unlike streaming media delivery, which benefits from a broad and decentralized content delivery network, hosting centralized voice recognition services would likely make more sense as a primary role of the Apple's new data center.
According to Tech Crunch, Apple has engaged in "months of tense negotiations" with Nuance to ensure that it could continue to use the firm's technology on its own hardware, allowing it to potentially "build on top of the technology." The report also noted that Nuance holds key voice-related patents and that most of the talent with expertise in voice recognition already work for Nuance or Google, making a partnership with the firm preferable to in-house development.
The report also claimed via "an anonymous tipster" that Microsoft "had been pushing Apple hard" to use its own voice recognition technology in iOS, only to be "rebuffed" by Apple's increasingly close partnership with Nuance. Apple is expected to announce voice recognition features and services within iOS 5 at its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco during the first week of June.
It is not yet known whether Apple will primarily be leveraging the new technology for its own first party services, such as a rebranded version of Siri, or whether it will also be making those services broadly available to third parties to use in their own apps, following the model Apple used to deliver push notifications and Game Center collaboration features in iOS.