“TechCrunch” (http://macte.ch/UNEAw) is reporting that Apple is hammering out a deal with Nuance, which specializes in speech software and voice recognition technology, to either license its technology or (less likely) buy the company outright. It’s a match that makes sense.

After all, Apple introduced voice control on the iPhone with iOS 3.0. The company is likely planning on extending this functionality — and perhaps bringing voice recognition to the Mac in ways beyond what’s been accomplished before.

According to “The Next Web” (http://macte.ch/Dfd7f), Siri uses Nuance to do the “heavy lifting” of processing speech into data. It then interprets and uses that data in interesting ways — like firing up an app, writing a text message or checking email.

“TechCrunch” says Apple will announce the Nuance partnership at next month’s Worldwide Developer Conference. The article adds that, in fact, Apple is already running Nuance software in its ginormous data center in North Carolina.

“More specifically, we’re hearing that Apple is running Nuance software — and possibly some of their hardware — in this new data center. Why? A few reasons,” says “TechCrunch.” “First, Apple will be able to process this voice information for iOS users faster. Second, it will prevent this data from going through third-party servers. And third, by running it on their own stack, Apple can build on top of the technology, and improve upon it as they see fit.

Last year Apple bought Siri (http://siri.com/), a mobile application that allows users to perform Web searches by voice command on a cellphone. Siri’s free app is connected to a whole ecosystem of Web services and programming interfaces, and has the ability to activate other applications that reside on a smartphone, notes the “Wall Street Journal” (http://macte.ch/tJrTM).

A Siri user can simply say, “Tell my wife I’ll be 20 minutes late,” and Siri examines the user’s social networks, address books and other programs, finds the person tagged “wife,” converts the message to text, and sends it directly to her phone. Need a table for two at your favorite restaurant next Thursday? Just ask Siri. Need a taxi right now? Just ask Siri and, with a request, the cab’s on is way.

Basically, you type stuff into your phone, and it connects to APIs [application programming interfaces] across the Web to bring you a result. However, Sir uses speech recognition technology from Nuance Communications, which is why, if the rumors are correct, Apple is interested in buddying up to or buying Nuance.

Most folks think Apple is interested in making a voice platform for developers to build voice recognition tools into their iOS games and apps. But why not do the same with the Mac? After all, the processing power of the Mac is greater than that of the iOS devices.

Sure you can do various speech recognition and dictating tasks with products such as Dragon Dictate and MacSpeech Scribe, as well as the limited speech recognition functionality built into the Mac, but these products still haven’t reached the “Star Trek” ease of use that Apple probably desires.

As good as the Dragon and MacSpeech products are, what if Apple licensed Nuance technology, put their own unbeatable hardware and software teams on it, and truly kicked up voice recognition on the Mac to the next level? Currently, speech software understands what you say and can accurately transcribe those words with some “training” (especially if you have a strong accent like my Southern one). Such software can also perform basic commands based on voice input.

But imagine this taken up several notches. What if you could “tell” iCal to “set lunch with Chris on Wednesday at 12:30 at Painturo’s,” and the voice recognition software set the date, reserved the table and sent Chris an email about the appointment? Far fetched? Not that far.

What’s more, the day is coming when we can expect voice recognition systems that also read body language and facial expressions. The statistical models that allow computers to decide what a person just said may in the not-too-distant future allow them to grasp the meaning behind the words.

And going back to the “Star Trek” analogy, what about a “universal translator”? According to “How Stuff Works” (http://macte.ch/QOl4x), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has three teams of researchers working on Global Autonomous Language Exploitation (GALE), a program that will take in streams of information from foreign news broadcasts and newspapers and translate them. It hopes to create software that can instantly translate two languages with at least 90% accuracy.

Apple is certainly looking waaaaay beyond the improvements of Mac OS X Lion and iOS 5. And that future almost certainly involves more sophisticated speech recognition.

— Dennis Sellers