What Voice Recognition Technology Could Mean for Apple — and All of Us

Voice recognition has long been billed as a kind of holy grail of mobile computing, but the reality is that the technology has been awkward, inaccurate and often unusable, resulting in misdialed phone calls and incomprehensible messages. So it’s no surprise it’s failed to garner much usage in mobile.

Apple (s aapl) may be positioned to change all that, though, with the iOS 5 platform it will outline at next week’s WWDC in San Francisco. The company has reportedly been in discussions to license Nuance’s effective voice technology – dubbed Dragon – and may integrate it with the new version of iOS 5. Apple could make the technology available to developers as a built-in API in iOS 5, handing app creators a valuable new tool. Such a move would not only give voice recognition a much-needed push into the mobile mainstream, it would give Apple the chance to once again transform the way we interact with our phones. Here’s why:

1) Voice recognition technology is finally ready for prime time. Dragon powers Nuance’s FlexT9 (s nuan) for Android (s goog), a dictation app that sells for a mere $5 and enjoys a four-star user rating after more than 1,100 reviews. And there is no shortage of compelling use cases, from accessing a navigation app while driving (when your hands should be on the wheel) to dictating lengthy messages rather than typing on a miniature keyboard.

2) Apple knows how to educate the consumer. Voice recognition has come a long way, but using it still isn’t always intuitive. Google’s technology, for example, requires users to say the words “period” or “comma” if they want to add punctuation to their messages. But Apple’s marketing genius lies in showing consumers how to use technology: The first iPhone commercials were essentially tutorials in how to surf the Web, access email and find nearby businesses on the handset. A similar campaign could illustrate how to do all those things and more by talking, not typing.

3) Apple is a master of the user interface. The touchscreen was nothing new when the iPhone came to market; Apple’s true innovation was in simplifying the technology with an interface that made it easy for users to navigate their phones. The company could do the same with voice by integrating Dragon closely with iOS, making it easy to send messages or navigate the Safari browser by speaking. And the legions of iOS developers will surely find innovative new ways to leverage voice in everything from messaging to gaming to social networking.

For more thoughts on how Apple could leverage voice recognition technology to change the way we use our phones, see my latest Weekly Update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image courtesy Flickr user Lazurite.