August 12, 2014, 6:00 PM — After the dismal failure of touch on laptops, it looks like voice control is the new shiny thing. Microsoft is rumored to be bringing Cortana, the digital voice assistant for Windows Phone, to its upcoming Windows 9 operating system, and now there are hints of Apple bringing Siri to Macs.
Last week, the United States Patent and Trademark Office published a 92-page patent application from Apple that describes voice dictation software similar Siri, but for MacOS and with much more functionality.
Apple originally filed for the patent, titled "Intelligent Digital Assistant in a Desktop Environment," in February.
Like Siri for iOS, Apple's desktop version would use speech recognition to perform functions like input, requesting data, performing tasks, searches, and more. But Apple intends to do more than that. Voice recognition is very CPU-intensive, and as powerful as the A7 processor may be, it's no match for a quad-core Intel processor. So Apple will be able to do much more, such as contextual input.
The abstract hints at this. "In some embodiments, a user device selectively invokes a dictation mode or a command mode to process a speech input depending on whether an input focus of the user device is within a text input area displayed on the user device. In some embodiments, a digital assistant performs various operations in response to one or more objects being dragged and dropped onto an iconic representation of the digital assistant displayed on a graphical user interface. In some embodiments, a digital assistant is invoked to cooperate with the user to complete a task that the user has already started on a user device," it reads.
This would indicate considerable new functionality and capabilities over what Siri does now. Also according to the document, users will be able to interact with this new digital assistant using hand gestures in addition to voice commands. For example, you could launch an app by drawing a circle on the trackpad.
Apple also indicated that Mac Siri, for lack of a better name, would be a "third hand," as Apple calls it in part of the filing. Siri would be the third point of input after the keyboard and mouse. For example, you could highlight text with the mouse and say "copy that," instead of the Command-C key.
In another example, Apple describes a scenario where you could be moving files from one folder to another and Siri could create another new folder for you at the same time, saving you the time of stopping to make a new folder. Granted it takes all of five seconds, but it also means your work flow doesn't get interrupted with mundane tasks.
Now for the big question: when. Yosemite is on its fifth beta, pretty far along to add something so new and complex. That doesn't necessarily mean you will have to wait for Yosemite's successor, just that it's doubtful you will see it when OS X 10.10 ships. But Apple does like its surprises.