Apple caught testing offline Dictation for iOS 7

iOS 7 Dictation (teaser 001)

Among the headline new Mac features set to debut when OS X Mavericks gets released this Fall is a little but important enhancement to Dictation.

Hawk-eyed readers will recall that Dictation was brought to the Mac as part of OS X Mountain Lion last summer. Based on Siri’s speech-to-text component, Dictation on the Mac requires a broadband Internet connection.

In Mavericks, Apple will let you optionally download a nearly 1GB package to power offline Dictation.

But Apple’s engineers aren’t stopping here and are reportedly privately testing offline Dictation for iOS 7. More details right after the break…

The discovery was made by Hamza Sood and first reported by Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac.

Although Apple’s iOS 7 web page makes no mention of offline Dictation, Hamza spotted code references in both iOS 7 betas (but not in iOS 6).

The functionality is currently not active in public-facing builds, but we are told that devices internal to Apple have the function up and running.

We are also told that while local Dictation is an option in these seeds, the former, cloud-based Dictation process is present for certain situations. Perhaps this will be an option in Settings or an option based on Internet conditions.

We can only speculate as to whether offline Dictation might be an iPhone 5S exclusive.

Such a move wouldn’t be unheard-of. Remember, Siri debuted in October 2011 as an iPhone 4S exclusive before eventually being rolled to the fifth-generation iPod touch and iPad 3 and 4 and iPad mini.

iOS 7 (Keyboard, Dictation, Siri waveform)Android Offline Dictation
Current Dictation implementation in iOS 7 (left) and offline Dictation on Android (right).

It remains to be seen whether the current iPhone 5 has enough oomph to carry out on-device speech-to-text conversion. Battery life is an obvious concern here as tapping the Dictation database weighing several hundred megabytes would prove a major burden on resources.

Here’s a demo of live Dictation in OS X Mavericks.

Potential benefits of offline Dictation on iDevices are obvious.

First and foremost, such a capability would enable live feedback when using your voice to input text using Dictation. You’d also avoid unwanted data usage over the cellular network, always a big concern when on a metered plan.

The offline Dictation database could even help Siri  respond instantly to certain queries, like setting your alarms, turning on flashlight and performing other functions that don’t require web sources.

Siri iOS 7 1

All told, we’re pretty sure offline Dictation is coming to iOS devices, this way or another.

Back in November, reliable sources told Gurman that Apple would bring both Siri and native Maps app to the Mac. The latter came true as OS X Mavericks includes a standalone Maps application.

Siri, on the other, is a no show in Mavericks.

There’s no reason to suspect Siri won’t make a leap to the Mac just as we’re all but certain that offline Dictation will at some point surface as an option on certain iOS 7 devices.