back to article Apple threatens to ruin peace worldwide with voice-controlled iMacs

Imagine an office full of people controlling their Apple iMacs by shouting into their iPhones: "Email John! No, not Juan. John! EMAIL John! NOT SHE-MALE John. STOP!" Well, that dystopia could become reality if the US Patent Office rubber-stamps blueprints revealed online yesterday. The patent application, filed by Apple's …


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  1. David Webb

    So patents are allowed even if they are obvious? Voice control on a PC - check, voice control on a phone - check, I know, lets make it so the voice control on the phone can control the PC!.... Bleedin obvious. Mainly because Windows 7 can already do that kinda stuff with an electronic device (bluetooth headphones count as an electronic device right?)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Read the patent details more carefully.

      This is an appliance that allows for control of other non-voice controlled devices.

      Such a voice control gateway would be very handy for someone unable to use a computer at present due to visual or physical impairment.

      1. nsld

        Thats what kids are for

        I shout at them, they operate the non voice controlled item.


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If this one gets through then in my humble opinion, the USPO are beyond redemption and the US will deserve all that comes its way when Asia starts battering it over the head with its own patents.

        Something like this springs to mind -

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ Michelle Knight

          > If this one gets through then in my humble opinion, the USPO are beyond redemption

          They already are. Honda were recently awarded a patent for a forward-facing loudspeaker on an electric motorcycle that could be used to play a sound so that pedestrians can hear the otherwise too quite motorcycle approaching.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            Oh .. my ... god.

            Already done on cars yonks ago.

            Hello ... Open University ... I'd like to enrol on a course for patent litigation please.

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          @ Michelle Knight

          Looks like a handy gizmo you've linked to. But that isn't what this Apple patent is for, since it involves combining your voice command with other information, such as the phone state, or its location. The clue is in the title of the patent- it wasn't mentioned in the article though, hence the comments here protesting about something that isn't even happening, or else citing irrelevant prior art.

          1. David Webb

            @Dave 126

            I read the patent, at least up to number 3. My take is this.

            You press a button and say "Play Spice Girls song number 7" into device 1. Device 2 obtains that information and the media player then plays Spice Girls song number 7.


            You press a button and say "Change to the channel showing Debbie Does Dallas" which is on the TV guide on your phone, it sends the voice command "Record" as well as the information "Channel 5, 9PM" and then Siri replies with "Should I also order some tissues from Tesco's for you?"

            Both are obvious, it's nothing more than a voice controlled remote control - < Prior Art

            There is nothing new about it, it's pretty much obvious and has been done before, the contextual is fluffy, what is the actual context?

        3. DerekCurrie

          Asian Patents? Nice try Samsung troll.

          The US Patent Office is well known to be a largely technology illiterate, underfunded, deadly slow bureaucratic hell hole. That it does as well as it does these days is remarkable. But to expect 'Asia' to start pumping out patents (outside of Japan and Taiwan) is flippant absurdity. China, despite money poured into education, has a government and culture that kills incentives to be creative and innovative. China in instead almost exclusively imitative. For reasons I personally cannot comprehend, South Korea is stuck in a similar rut, as blatantly illustrated by Samsung in court and the almost exclusively imitative products of other South Korean companies. I wish South Korea to become creative in the future, but for now, it's not. China sadly looks hopeless with its current demented regime and culture.

          So 'Michelle Knight', you are either kidding, or ignorant, or working for Samsung in order to troll us. Whatever the case, do your homework and know what you're talking about.

      3. Mark .

        But controlling another computer via a phone is something that's been done for years too, and is obvious (e.g., all the "remote control" applications you get for Android and Symbian). And since voice recognition is old hat too, it's not clear to me why doing the controlling of a phone via voice recognition is suddenly patent-worthy.

      4. Mark .

        PS - plus the only reason someone might not have done this before is it's pointless - just put the voice recognition on the computer, which will typically be more powerful (if Macs don't have it, that's their loss, but Windows has had it for years). It also seems odd in that this won't work automatically with a computer - the computer still has to have remote control software added to be controlled by a phone!

        The remote control phone applications are useful, because you might want to control something whilst sitting on the sofa - but with voice, the computer could hear you anyway.

        "Such a voice control gateway would be very handy for someone unable to use a computer at present due to visual or physical impairment."

        What problem would it solve, that isn't already solvable by existing voice recognition systems on computers?

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          To clarify:

          Hiya peoples-

          The patent isn't for voice control (which I think we can all agree has been done many times before) but for the combination of voice commands processed in combination with other data... such as where the phone is when the command is uttered, or who the last person you spoke with on the phone is. The full title of the patent 'Electronic Devices with Voice Command and Contextual Data Processing Capabilities' didn't appear in the above article, though Ms Leach did give some examples.

          If you think it is ridiculous that a patent has been given for straight forward voice control - you're right. And that isn't what happened.

        2. MrZoolook

          Quote: if Macs don't have it, that's their loss, but Windows has had it for years

          That didn't stop Apple from managing to screw Samsung on the basis that "The Samsung software does not natively run on iOS, so isn't prior art from this lawsuits perspective"

      5. yossarianuk

        But cost the earth ... (if Apple get the patent)

        If Apple gets the patent granted its a shame as people with visual or physical impairment will have to shell out lots of cash to use the technology...

        1. 142

          Re: But cost the earth ... (if Apple get the patent)

          Absolutely the opposite! The companies specialising in accessibility tech often charge hundreds and thousands in royalties per unit if you make a product covered by one of their patents, even if they don't make a similar product...

          Apple may charge royalties for the patent, but you can bet your house they won't be as bad as that!

      6. SpitefulGOD

        Check it and it all costs pittance

  2. Pooka

    I'm guessing things like....

    Star Trek won't qualify as prior art in this case either...

    Dear American Patents, just stop. Please?

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: I'm guessing things like....

      No, StarTrek never counts as prior art on the simple grounds that all they had were props, not working devices. Patents require a workable device or method to be valid.

      1. SJRulez

        Re: I'm guessing things like....

        "Patents require a workable device or method to be valid."

        Well that blows Apples application out of the water!! A workable device, siri only works properly in the US. Also quiet interesting how they are currently being sued over the technology involved in.

        Incidentally I currently shout at my Xbox regularly to control it surely that rules out them being able to claim it first.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: I'm guessing things like....

          I'm pretty sure the patent is rather more specific than simple speech recognition. As people have pointed out voice recognition software has been around for a while now. When you properly understand what is covered by the patent then come back and try again.

        2. MrZoolook

          Re: I'm guessing things like....

          Quote: Incidentally I currently shout at my Xbox regularly to control it surely that rules out them being able to claim it first.

          As a bonus, "BACK" will act in a non-fixed manner, reverting to the previous menu or screen (as opposed to a fixed start point). So that also covers the 'contextual' part of the patent.

      2. ShadowedOne


        "Patents require a workable device or method to be valid."

        Patents do, yes. Prior Art however, doesn't.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Strawman

          Not true. To quote

          "A prior art document is said to anticipate a claim of a patent if the prior art document describes all the features of that claim, either implicitly or explicitly. The features of the claim must be present in the same composition in the prior art."

          So unless your work of fiction describes in detail how a thing works then its not prior art. Anti-gravity, teleportation etc are just concepts in fiction until someone works out how to make them real. That step is worthy of a patent.

          1. ZeroP

            Re: Strawman

            From the same source (apparently, you should have mentioned, by the way:


            "The second way to attack a claim is on the basis of inventive step. This requires a combination of documents which describes all elements from a claim. The next step is to argue why a skilled person would (not merely could) combine those documents so as to arrive at the claimed invention. In this argumentation it is not permitted to apply hindsight. You must base the reasoning on the situation the day before the date of filing of the patent application and the knowledge a skilled person had on that day."

            Voice control has been around for ages, getting it to take that next step seems like an obvious next step to me.

            1. Steve Todd

              Re: Strawman

              Different argument. The original argument was that the existence of something vaguely like it in SciFi was prior art. It isn't, unless it describes or implies all claims in the patent. Voice recognition per se isn't anything new so the patent is about the steps beyond that.

              The inventive step in this case is for the mobile device to capture context information that is passed to the desktop along with the voice recording to help it make sense of the message. That seems to be at least moderately inventive to me.

          2. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Strawman

            Curious that Mr Todd, the first person here who actually appears to read the title of the patent, let alone its contents, has been downvoted.

            "Electronic Devices with Voice Command and Contextual Data Processing Capabilities" is the title.

  3. Individual #6/42

    Old Joke

    ask coworker with voice control "What's the command to format a drive?", followed by "Are you sure?"

    1. Studley

      Re: Old Joke

      Or, to expand on the article subtitle:

      "Siri, delete my coworker's files"

      > searching for Mike O'Worker...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mountain Lion already has speech recognition.

  5. Peter2 Silver badge

    Prior art!

    I had a peice of software that allowed me to issue commands to my PC years ago, they can't possibly have that as a patent!

    And having used voice control before, I can say that it's only real use is to impress people seeing it for the first time. It's only useful in a very, very narrow set of circumstances. It's almost always easier to use a keyboard & mouse to control your device.

    1. Armando 123

      Re: Prior art!

      A father's coworker wrote this for the manufacturing company where they worked ... in 1984.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Prior art!

        >they can't possibly have that as a patent!

        You're right, they don't. The patent is a combination of using voice commands combined with other 'contextual' data.

    2. SpitefulGOD

      Afraid not

      My parents are both blind and voice control with media centre is a brilliant gift to them such commands as copy DVD, play movie battleship, play artist Abba, record formation street next Wednesday on ITV, are all possible and faster than using any mouse or keyboard to find media. All set up for about £400

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. MrZoolook
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Afraid not

        Quote: "record formation street next Wednesday on ITV"

        The voice recognition is so bad they need to use FORMATION Street?

        Paris because, it's just a step away from Fornication Street...

  6. Geoff Thompson


    Does this and had done for a long time.

  7. benjymous

    Macs have had voice control for years. A friend at uni smugly demonstrated it on his, but quickly turned it off when we realised we could stand outside and shout "SHUTDOWN! YES!" (responding to the "Are you sure?") prompt.

  8. g e

    Errrr Dragon Dictate, Naturally Speaking, etc?

    Like Geoff above, this was one of the first things that came to mind.

    At least it'll be easy to invalidate, I guess, let apple waste the money ramming it through USPTO

  9. EddieD

    Soundblasters, circa 1982

    Came with software for controlling your machine - or anything you could work out how to control with a pc - by spoken commands.

    It didn't use speech recognition per se - you taught it command phrases and you could say anything you liked to launch an application, but it worked remarkably well.

    It all depends on how the patent is phrased - as always, the devil is in the detail, and it's dictated by lawyers.

    1. EddieD

      Re: Soundblasters, circa 1982

      blast and damnation - that should be 92.

      Look, it's Friday, and I've had lunch, sue me....

      1. James O'Brien

        Re: Soundblasters, circa 1982

        Sue me. Careful Apple might actually take you up on that offer...

  10. DrBobK

    NeXT Cube

    I had a colleague with a NeXT Cube that had voice control many years ago. We were forever popping into his office and shouting arr em minus arr eff slash star. It never worked (and not because it needed a --no-preserve-root flag - too long ago for that I think).

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Evil Plans

    So, could you record a whole load of annoying commands (format drive etc...) onto a device and play it back at dogwhistle pitch? So nobody would know what you've done. Walking through a crowded commuter train of people shouting at their laptops suddenly sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Evil Plans

      I would imagine that a first step in speech recognition is to filter out those frequencies that play no part in speech. For you to carry out your nefarious plan, you might wish to investigate some sort of directed sound beam.

  12. Dana W


    Its already there, it's been there since Mountain Lion came out. It works fine. It works even better than Siri does on my phone. And you hardly need to yell. A regular speaking voice is all it takes. You Tap the function key twice, and talk.

    Seriously, you guys need to get a hobby, or switch to decaff........

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yell?

      It's great for dictating Perl

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      Re: Yell?

      > Its already there, it's been there since Mountain Lion came out.

      It's been there since the early eighties (probably before). The only thing "new" here is the "contextual" bit, which is both utterly obvious, and, well, not new at all actually My voice-operated computer already knows where it is and what time it is and uses that in some commands. Nothing new there, move along.

      Also, unless you have a very severe disability (such as, no hands), it is mostly useless in a work environment. Even blind people will be much better off with a Braille keyboard. Voice recognition takes a lot of time to train, is never really completely reliable due to different intonations, medical condition (who never gets a cold), ambient noise etc...

      In my experience, for work, nothing beats the keyboard. Then there's the mouse, then pretty much any other input method in existence, and then at the very very bottom of the efficiency/reliability list, proudly stands voice recog. Only useful where no other option is available.

      Of course when you can't type (lack of functionnal hands, already busy driving, or PHBitis), then voice recog becomes useful, but if you're using it to edit a mission-critical database then you'd rather have a good backup system. And that's regardless of the efficiency of the voice recog software: natural language is just not logical enough for most computer-related tasks (text dictation excluded, except when you catch a cold of course).

  13. LinkOfHyrule

    intelligent walls

    What is one of those?

    I have these bits of wall in my house that are quite clever, they are like normal walls but they give you the option of seeing through them, due to them being made from a transparent material. They are also quite smart in that they give you the option of 'opening' them, thus turning them into a wall that is temporarily non-wall like. Quite handy for letting in fresh air I find! And if none of this functionality takes your fancy, simply close it again, and use a special accessory called a curtain to cover the see through area. And there you have it! It becomes a plain old wall once again!

    Oh yeah, they're called Windows! So Apple wants us to use their voice tech to control Windows does it!

  14. Christoph

    1970 or earlier

    Henlein, "I will fear no evil", published 1970. Voice controlled office computer.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: 1970 or earlier

      Again no, describing something in a work of fiction is not creating a workable device or method. Larry Niven described a matter transporter in some of his books, it doesn't mean that it's prior art if someone actually manages to invent one.

  15. SJRulez

    This would only be good if it could understand the command.....

    Just f**king work!

  16. Steve Knox

    So basically,

    Like most patents I've seen recently, this is a patent for a device which may do a thing, or it may do another thing. It may do it one way or another. Whatever happened to patents requiring a working sample and a statement of what the device does do and how it actually does it?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: So basically,

      I know what you mean... that Apple patent for iPad covers with extra screens and input devices just read as a description of an entire finished product. It had sections relating to all sorts of things, hardware and software.

  17. Annihilator


    I'd be worried for John if "to she-male" was a verb and the Mac was capable of carrying out those instructions. Dystopian future indeed.

    [goes cross-legged]

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What do you mean *IF* it gets granted? I'm pretty sure the US patent office has a special rubber stamp reserved for when anything with Apple written on it come through the door.

  19. Martin Peacock

    Prior art?

    I recall in the late 80's being on a project where photogrammetry machines were controlled by voice. And yeh - more than 2 operators in the same room was comical.

    Going even further back .. Anyone remember the Golden Shot?

    Sure if only USPTO followed El Reg they'd be in a better place.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Prior art?

      The Golden Shot wasn't computer controlled, there was a man in a blindfold behind the crossbow.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There is a video on you tube of someone voice controlling thier windows PC.

    So Apple picked up on it and COPIED!

    Just fking STOP NOW foer sanity's sake.

    1. Tom 38

      Re: ARRRRRGH!

      The novel part of this patent is having your phone digitize your voice, transmit it to a central server which determines what you said, determines actions, and then sends them to a different device in order to operate it.

      That's what the youtube video shows is it?

      PS: You're foaming a bit at the mouth.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: ARRRRRGH!

        What Tom38 said. That and the voice command is processed in conjunction with other information supplied by the phone, such as its geographic location or which app is open at the time... but most comments here give the impression that they haven't even read the title of the patent, let alone its contents. In fairness, the patent title wasn't stated in the article, though Anna did give an example of its possible use.

  21. James O'Brien


    That first line had me laughing pretty hard. Not SHEMALE John....chuckles

  22. Larrykfr

    ok, so if I accept describing something in science fiction doesn't count as prior art due to the fact that it doesn't really exist, doesn't it actually go a long way in showing OBVIOUSNESS!!! and how obvious can you get, using voice commands to control stuff!. wasn't there a TV commercial showing just this sort of thing back in the 90's using a cell phone!! Common, you can't get more obvious!!!

    1. Steve Todd


      Does SciFi describing faster than light travel make it obvious how to do it?

  23. Jonathon Green

    Never mind the patent grab...

    ...anyone want to guess at the number of BOFH style lift shaft related incidents, cattle prod attacks, and plain old fire extinguisher mediated blunt object trauma incjuries which will result from widespread adoption of voice input/control in a typical working environment where the rest of us are trying to get on with some work in peace...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never mind the patent grab...

      Not nearly enough.

      Escape? There's no escape!

  24. Number6


    I remember in the days of OS/2 Warp which had speech recognition and we used to joke about people sticking their head into an office, shouting "format c! Yes" and running away.

    I wonder if Siri recognises "Prior Art!" ?

  25. Miek

    If approved, this patent would be proof to everyone that the USPTO is not fit-for-purpose.

  26. Admiral Grace Hopper

    "Glad to be of service"


  27. DerekCurrie

    Macs Have Had Voice Command Recognition Since 1993


    In 1990 Apple started a project that became 'PlainTalk'. It was released in 1993 on AV Macs and became standard in Mac OS 7.1.2. It includes speech command recognition and action. It remains integrated in OS X today. Anything can be made a command by way of AppleScript. Surprise, no catastrophic Register nightmare imagined horrors have resulted.

    Yeah, obviously this article is deliberately insane and stupid by intent. Why? What is the point here? Stupid anti-Apple FUD perpetration? (FUD = an ancient propaganda method known as 'Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt' for the purpose of manipulating sheeple).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Macs Have Had Voice Command Recognition Since 1993

      Despite making a statement of fact which can be verified by anyone with common sense.....

      You get downvoted.

      Mind you - this is the register - commentards don't let facts get in the way.

      Have an upvote from me to make up for it.

  28. SpitefulGOD please check out this video of my voice controlled media centre made for my blind parents. it is used day in, day out flawlessly for over 2 years and makes their lives so much easier. Voice tech is so much quicker and easier when controlling media, you should all be using it!

  29. MrZoolook

    Apple are already using this to get patents.

    The PTO is obviously just a bunch of Apple robots... I mean, anyone gonna argue they have a brain between them? Thought not!

    All they do is wait till a patent application comes through, the PTO bots then digitally scan and e-mail the patent to Apple servers with full detail then destroys the original application... Thus no prior art is registered. The Apple servers then digitally speak to the engineers detailing from the original application how the 'thing' is built and made workable. The Apple engineers 'create' the thing. And send it and a newly (and fully automatically) Apple letterheaded print of the original Application.

    It's the only way I can explain the USPTO not letting anyone other then Apple patent anything, and the only way that anything with clear prior art, obviousness, or in the public domain (hell, even FREEWARE) is suddenly finding its way onto Apples portfolio.

  30. Silverburn

    Why voice controlled itunes will fail

    1. "Play that know, that one by Alanis Morriset...something, something pill. Or something."

    2. "Play that know, that one that goes da, da, dee, dum, da, da"

    3. "Play something mellow. Maybe Jazz. Or some chilled electronic. You decide"

    4. "God, I hate this one. Play something better will you?"

    5. "Play that one from the British Airways advert, with some burd singin' on it"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why voice controlled itunes will fail

      Funny, but I think that's why it will succeed, if they charge you 50% if you start listening and change your mind.

  31. CaptainBlue

    "I don't understand 'danger'"

    That's what Siri says when I say "change it", usually after texting my girlfriend to suggest she should "Call hot Debby xxx" instead of whatever innocuous message I'd actually dictated. Sadly, I don't even know a hot Debby...

  32. Black Plague


    A British website, and no one here thought immediately about Mr. Reynholm Sr. from "The IT Crowd"?

    Hello. Hello computer. Hello. Hello! Hello computer!!!

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