Apple announces “spoken interface” for next major Mac OS X release

Apple has announced they are working on a spoken interface for the next major version of Mac OS X (10.4):

The Universal Access capabilities of Mac OS X that provide equal access for everyone to the power and simplicity of the Macintosh are now enhanced to include a spoken interface for those with visual and learning disabilities. The spoken interface is a fully integrated, built-in enhancement of the Mac OS X Aqua user interface making it an additional and equal way of accessing the Macintosh. It reads aloud the contents of documents like Web pages, Mail messages, and word processing files; provides a comprehensive audible description of your workspace and all the activities taking place on your computer; and includes a rich set of keyboard commands that allow you to navigate the Mac OS X interface and interact with application and system controls. If you or someone you are assisting has visual or learning impairments, the spoken interface enhances the rich set of Universal Access features in Mac OS X to ensure equal access for everyone.

The Mac OS X spoken interface delivers many of the features found in traditional, add-on screen reader applications with one important difference; the spoken interface is completely integrated into Mac OS X. Unlike traditional screen reader applications that are designed as bolted-on after thoughts, the Mac OS X spoken interface is fully integrated into Mac OS X providing an unprecedented level of built-in accessibility for a desktop operating system. In fact it will be included in the next major release of Mac OS X. The advantages are tremendous: No separate installation, wide availability, and one simple set of commands to learn and use. And, because its part of the operating system, you get access to the latest technology without delay.

Apple’s spoken interface technology is currently in development and scheduled for delivery in the next major release of Mac OS X.

Read more at Apple’s website here.

BusinessWeek also has an article with more information here.


  1. Ya know, I got an iSight camera the other day, actually because I wanted a microphone, and I have heard the one on iSight is pretty good ( which it is – it’s fantastic ) and hopefully for future iChat AV’s. �So, with this microphone I turned on the capabilities to talk to the computer and so on. �Let me tell you it works pretty dang well!! �If I want to get my mail, I hold down ESC ( or any key you want – or no key at all, you have the option!! �Just call Computer or any other name of your choice! ) and I say ‘get mail’ in a usual voice. �Not loud or anything, and I keep sitting where I am – not over the mic or anything. �My mail opens up! �Very cool. �I say ‘Mail to Mike’ a new letter opens up addressed to my friend Mike with a blinking cursor at the top. �You can even ask your computer to tell you a joke – I did this a few times. �I say ‘Tell me a joke’ ( and this is a true joke it told me) it said ‘knock, knock’, I replied ‘Who’s there?’ it said ‘Orange’, I said ‘Orange who?’ it replied ‘Orange you glad you bought Mac OSX?’ �I laughed pretty hard when I heard that one. �All the jokes are knock knock jokes… �but funny. �Also, for the very very cool. �You can turn on more than the default speech choices, and one was Menu Bar, and now I just hold down ESC, say ‘Apple Menu’, and the Apple Menu pulls down. �I say ‘Shut Down’ – the computer shuts itself down. �Cool as hell.

    Now, with the next version of OSX, it looks as though it’s going to get pretty powerful. � love it, Apple. �You are truely innovating.

  2. I wish they would come up with a good voice recognition interface. The Windows world has the best program for that. It would be just like on Star Trek. “Computer.” “Working.”

  3. There is True Integrity and then there is Imitative Integrity.

    True Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching you.

    Imitative Integrity is doing the right thing while others are watching.

    Apple didn’t have to add a “spoken interface”. There was no pressure to do so, and in fact it will be an expense with little hope of any return. They did it because it is the right thing to do. The Universal Access preferences in general are very useful and easy to access.

    Microsoft will undoubtedly try to pry this into their Longhorn, so as not to appear uncaring in comparison. They will do it because they must. Very cold. Very sad.

  4. Actually, Apple has had the ability to speak to your computer since System 7. It works very well, but it’s one of those things that nobody really supports. The Speech people at Apple (most of whom, entertainingly enough, have accents) give demos every year at WWDC showing how easy it is to add speech capabilities to your application, but no one ever uses it.

    I’ve tried to convince higher-ups to give me time to implement this stuff in applications I write, but it always ends up getting dropped when time gets tight.

  5. I’ve played with the above feature since OS 8 (and later tested in OS X), and it was pretty cool when it worked – most of the time, when you trined yourself to speak in a certain way (a bit like Graffiti on Palm OS, a little bit of learning curve). You can even program it to open ANY app just by saying it’s name, but sadly it don’t work very well in an open-studio plan office environment as there were too much background noise and the mic was not up to scratch (unless you held it in front of you like a “tool” ;o)

    What would make it more interesting (and truly useful) is outlined in this link:

    i.e. When you say anything and the Mac will “translate” and do the work for you – like sending an email to someone in your address book by simply calling up the computer and tell it to send a email to John Doe with the blah blah message, and it would be done in the background

  6. It one of those novelity things that gets real old quick.

    Plus in an office situation you don�t want to hear a lot of people talking to their computers and vice-versa. It becomes very distractive.

    And I found playing around with it on earlier versions of Mac it was just too slow for my tastes.
    Clicking the email program to open is faster than saying “Open the email program”.

  7. As Bin Derdundat says it is fun to use at first but gets old pretty fast. I might hook it up again tho to open some programs I use a lot and to put the computer to sleep. The main problem is it is still too limited. If Apple could take it to the next level (and it sounds like they might be going in that direction) and improve it to the point where it even starts to approach the level you see in Star Trek where rather than just accepting set commands it could start to really understand speech (in other words be able to accept enough possible variations that it SEEMED like it could understand speech) then it would really be the “Next Big Thing”.

    I think this is still a ways off tho unfortunately. I have a GPS system in my car tho that I use voice commands on very regularly. You can program in destinations and the verbal name for the destination and it gets it right almost every time. Not having to screw with a control while driving is a great advantage. It can also do an address and has all the train stations already in it. Unfortunately for most of the world it is all in Japanese but as long as you speak Japanese it works great!!

    The advantage of Japanese for this kind of thing is there are just 50 set sounds to the language so it is easier to work with. Also for an address Japanese go from large area to small area instead of the other way around like in the US. (e.g. Massachusetts, Boston, Bower Street 123) So you can start out by saying Massachusetts and it will ask “Where in Massachusetts?” You will say Boston and it will ask “Where in Boston?” etc. Of course you can just read the address straight through too but with more possibilities the chance of it getting it wrong go up.

  8. Exactly, They would have longhorn out by now is Apple didnt keep adding stuff to OS X! MS cant wait for Apple to release and then copy it faster than Apple releases somthing new =)

  9. The rumor sies keep saying all dualies in the next rev (which may be when 10.4 arrives). With that kind of processing power and speech recognition built into the core level, they just might have it at a usable level. Can anyone say American with Disabilities Act compliance in computing? That could be Apple’s holy grail as far as increasing market share goes, since the majorty of people don’t seem to care about stability or virus immunity.

  10. When Apple stopped putting floppy drives in new models I used to tell prople “Apple will also be the first to ship computers with no keyboard or mouse inputs.” That day is a little closer now.

  11. I tried using the spoken interface to chess. It was fun for about 5 minutes, until it started making wrong moves. I actually find it more tiring to talk to the computer than to use the keyboard. I think the keyboard is the most efficient way to interact with the computer. Of course, there are special cases when some other interface is better, but in general the keyboard is king.

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