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Talking iPods 194

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the you-like-your-ipod-better-than-me-don't-you-dave dept.
chrisb33 writes to tell us the next iteration of the iPod may talk you through the menus instead of just relying on text. The Scotsman speculates on this new technology based on a patent filed by Apple in the US. From the article: "The patent reveals the idea is driven largely by safety considerations. It states: 'A user will have difficulty navigating the interface in "eyes-busy" situations. Such activities include, for example, driving an automobile, exercising and crossing the street." The patent also makes clear that text-to-speech technology is likely to spread to other hand-held electronic devices such as mobile phones and palm-top computers."
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Talking iPods

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  • Scotty: "Computer... Computer... (McCoy hands Scotty the mouse) Scotty: "Aye. Hello computer." -- "Just use the keyboard." (Scotty flexes fingers and begins typing) Scotty: "Keyboard. How quaint."
  • From the Editor's short summary, without actual references to the patent text, it look like a very obvious patent again. Text to speech applyed to menu navigation. Nothing new here.
    • by moochfish (822730) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:43AM (#15690064)
      As Creative kindly reminded Apple, having defensive patents to make sure your competitors think twice about suing you for patent infringment is a smart move.

      I'm more curious if Apple manages to make this feature a new defacto standard in the MP3 player market. I'm also wondering if this feature will come into play when and if they enter the cell phone market. It seems like a patent that applies readily to that market.
      • As Creative kindly reminded Apple, having defensive patents to make sure your competitors think twice about suing you for patent infringment is a smart move.

        Your honor, Creative Labs claims prior art in the field of text-to-speech interfaces, and we can prove it. I'd like to call as my first witness Doctor Sbaitso [wikipedia.org].

    • From the Editor's short summary, without actual references to the patent text, it look like a very obvious patent again. Text to speech applyed to menu navigation. Nothing new here.

      Yeah, I actually posted about that 2 years ago when the shuffle was rumored. Can I dig up my old /. post and call it prior art? ;)

      Of course, people thought I was nuts then...

    • by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:05AM (#15690139) Homepage
      Text to speech applyed to menu navigation. Nothing new here.

      Indeed. I was playing with that concept some 15 years ago on a Commodore Amiga, and back then it wasn't a new concept either.

      If this patent gets approved, it would show once more that the tests for non-obviousness and novelty are seriously broken.

      Non-obvious:

      Prior art in the form of existing text to speech implementations (Amiga and others) and menus (Mac, Amiga, others).

      Known and/or well documented motivation to combine the 2: See any software aimed at making a computer accessable to someone who cannot read the screen for one reason or another.

      Got to think of it, screen readers and such seem to implement menu to speech interfaces and have been for at least some 2 decades.

      So.. the novelty part should be clear.
      • by Mant (578427) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:26AM (#15690235) Homepage

        I expect what they will patent is the system where the computer does the text-to-speech and then loads up the created files to the player along with the actual songs, then the menu system plays them as appropriate.

        So a bit more than just a text-to-speech menu system.

        • So a bit more than just a text-to-speech menu system.

          Preparing a sample on a 'high performance' machine for playback on a machine where realtime generation would be 'too expensive' for one reason or another is not exactly a new idea, and anyone who even needs a documented motivation for doing that seems in need of a new brain first :)

          In other words, doing as you suggest should not make the patent valid because it should still fail being novel and non-obvious, even with todays broken concept of what 'obvious
          • I don't disagree, I was just pointing out that it wasn't just text-to-peach as some people were claiming.

            Personally I think many patents are silly and obvious and lack any real innovation. I don't get to decide though, and this seems less obviously that stuff like one click ordering that got a patent, and I expect this does enough to get Apple the patent, unless the system gets an overhaul.

      • So.. the novelty part should be clear.
        Did you read the patent? and are you a lawyer?
        • Did you read the patent? and are you a lawyer?

          Yes, no.

          As someone else already pointed out, the second question should not be relevant, rather, the relevant question should be: 'are you an expert in the field', and yes I am.

          Maybe somewhere in the claims of the patent there is actually a genuine invention, I failed to spot it, but that might actually be one of the first and biggest problems with patents.

          As an expert in the field, I should be able to take a patent and implement the invention described in it. A
          • As someone else already pointed out, the second question should not be relevant, rather, the relevant question should be: 'are you an expert in the field', and yes I am. Maybe somewhere in the claims of the patent there is actually a genuine invention, I failed to spot it, but that might actually be one of the first and biggest problems with patents. As an expert in the field, I should be able to take a patent and implement the invention described in it. As it is, this is often not true for software related

            • However the purpose of the patent is legal protection, not technology documentation.

              Almost. The purpose is legal protection in exchange for a documented invention. Patent law seems pretty clear about whom the target audience is for both documentation and things like 'obviousness', and it is not lawyers.

              the context is not technology, or plain english and common sense, but the law and the universe of patents.

              That is also the problem. The law and the 'universe of patents' exist for a reason, and failing to for
      • Forget Amiga, what about all the voice/audio navigation menus in phone systems... surely that pre-dates most systems.

        for english press one...
        para el español prensa número dos...
    • Text to speech applyed to menu navigation. Nothing new here.

      Ahhh! But it's now being done on a computer!

      Oh wait.
  • Rockbox (Score:5, Informative)

    by FromWithin (627720) <stuff@@@fromwithin...com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:37AM (#15690048) Homepage
    Rockbox [rockbox.org] has had this for ages now. It's a replacement MP3 operating system, originally for the Archos machines, but now even runs on the later generation iPods.
    • Re:Rockbox (Score:1, Flamebait)

      Unfortunately, Rockbox lacks all the elegance and grace which characterizes the Apple iPod interface. It looks and feels like it was designed by an autistic chimpanzee.

      And it can't even play AAC files. That's right. No MPEG-4 audio. In 2006.

      But hey, it plays OGG!
      • Re:Rockbox (Score:1, Informative)

        by Nocterro (648910)
        Regardless, if the question is one of prior art, then rockbox seems a pretty clear example. No doubt apple will get the patent and then push for legislation requiring all other companies to license it as part of equal rights for disabled people regardless.
      • Re:Rockbox (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nathanh (1214)
        Unfortunately, Rockbox lacks all the elegance and grace which characterizes the Apple iPod interface. It looks and feels like it was designed by an autistic chimpanzee.

        Rockbox supports gapless playback.

        So you go play with your "elegant graceful interface". I prefer to listen to the music.

        • Re:Rockbox (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rm999 (775449) on Monday July 10, 2006 @10:38AM (#15691040)
          "So you go play with your "elegant graceful interface". I prefer to listen to the music."

          This seems obvious to me, but no one else has said it:
          Don't buy an iPod if this is your mentality. You can save some money with another product that has more features but a worse interface. People don't buy iPods for the features, they buy them for the elegant interface that no alternative OS or product has been able to match.
  • by lorentey (644913) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:43AM (#15690065) Homepage

    The Rockbox [rockbox.org] open-source firmware for iPods and various other players has been supporting talking menus for ages. (Sorry, the Rockbox wiki seems to be down for the moment.)

    Furthermore, it's free and does not try to lock you out of your music.

    So what's up with the patent?

  • by fullcircleflight (883189) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:44AM (#15690066)
    If I whistle to my iPod a few seconds of a song melody, I would like to see it identify the track and then play it! I'm sure it would be impossible, but at least it would be more patent-worthy!
    • That's the sort of application I can see becoming possible with the advent of constant internet connectivity. You whistle into your iPod, it digitizes that and sends it across the internet to your home PC/a free server/more likely a pay-per-song service which matches the song and sends back the song info. If you have it it plays, if not you get the option to stream it, storing it on your iPod after it's played. Ideally the service would make its money from these purchases, but I doubt the record labels coul
    • by Tryfen (216209)
      Just like Shazam - http://www.shazam.com/music/portal [shazam.com] - dial 2345 from your phone, hold it to the speaker, receive the text title of the song and an option to purchase it as a ringtone or song.

      t
    • This is a coincidence. I accidently passed gas and my iPod responded "Britney Spears?"
    • I worked on a system once that indexed tunes by (roughly) the first derivative of the pitch contour of the melody. The start of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" would be: FDDUUSSDSS, where D=down, U=up, S=same and F=first note. It was startling how effective this method was, with the vast proportion of 5000 tunes or so we looked at being disambiguated in 8 or fewer steps. I'm pretty sure this idea was turned into a product and sold, by Franklin Electronic Publishers, something like 10 years ago. So no, it's no
      • One of my Hal Leonard Fake Books (paper book with lots of music) has an index just like this... except I don't think the F was used.

        As a musician, I found the thing completely worthless.

        But, maybe somebody didn't.
    • It's not whistling, but tapping is probably easier to implement on an iPod ... just replace 'space bar' with 'clickwheel' ...

      http://www.songtapper.com/s/tappingmain.bin [songtapper.com]

      This site lets you search for a song, by tapping the rhythm of its words (lyrics).

      Let's say you have a song stuck in your head, and you don't know the name of it. Never fear! Load up our search screen, and try tapping the rhythm of the song on your space bar while humming the tune. Tap the space bar for each syllable that you sing. It's that

    • Similar, but different: At ISMIR 2005 there was a presentation on Query-by-Beatboxing. The publication is available in mistic's list of publications [ece.uvic.ca]. Mistic is the "Music intelligence technology" group at the University of Victoria.

      Of course with most people's beatboxing skills it would be more amusing for the onlooker.
  • Fan boy alert! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "innovation"

    "The ingenious system"

    "clever software"

    Give me a break!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:46AM (#15690073)
    If MP3's are still arranged in a geometric structure (trees of various sortings) and unless some new metaphor is introduced, iPods will still require spatial reasoning to navigate. While driving, I argue that there is one task and one task alone that should be getting full spation reasoning awareness: driving.

    What makes this worse is the translation from spatial to textual. This requires the user to reconstruct the spatial, requiring even more concentration.

    How about voice recognition? Call out the artist or album and listen away!
    • While driving, I argue that there is one task and one task alone that should be getting full spation reasoning awareness: driving.

      I agree in principle that just reading off menu items to us is adding a level of abstraction, not simplifying anything. We haven't really seen how this would work, but it sounds like nothing much new. (Pre-OS X Macs certainly did this too.)

      The thing about cars is, radios and cells phones are also distracting. When each of those came out people said they distracted from peopl

    • Voice recognition would be horrible. As I have said in another post, this is so blind people can use the iPod.
  • maybe, maybe not. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aqua OS X (458522) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:47AM (#15690076)
    The author seems fairly certain that a patent equals an imminent new feature, but that's not the case. A patent is a patent. Apple may implement this in 6 Gen iPods, they may wait for later revisions, they may never implement the feature.

    Technology companies, especially Apple, have piles patented software features, devices, etc that have never seen the light of day. And speaking of piles, one of which is actually called "piles."

      As I recall, Apple also has also recently patented several different new hardware interfaces for the iPod. You can bet money they're not all going to be implemented. Heck, none of them may be implemented.

    • Even if none of them get implemented, the point is that Apple holds the patent. So if some company thinks up something similar, or just outright sees the patent and thinks they can make it a commercial success, Apple is going to get a slice of the pie.
  • by nihaopaul (782885) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:48AM (#15690079) Homepage
    me > hello, thanks for calling me back
    *ipod changes* playing album: hello my name is q
    *ipod changes* The Calling - Thank You.mp3
    me > shut up!
    caller > what?
    *ipod changes* 03-lil_kim-shut_up_bitch.mp3
    me > no not you, my ipod is freaking me out
    *ipod changes* Ali G Indahouse-Da Soundtrack/14-another_level-freak_me-rns.mp3
    caller > you know its weird to talk to that thing right?
    me > your driving me crazy
    *ipod changes* Fidel Cashflow (2005) - Rap/06-stack_bundles-hustlers_go_crazy.mp3
    caller > what ever, forget the job!
    me > no, wait a minute!
    *ipod changes* ez-rollers/lickable_beats_lp_sampler/09-60_minute_ man_and_dj_touch-tonight.mp3

    real men dont mark this funny, real men mark it insightful!
  • Well, Duh, I have a navigation device that uses speech too (TomTom). There is mountains of prior art here. Yes I know they are talking about navigating menus, but hell, If I have a map of London, can I still patent maps of New York? WTF?
  • Prior Art (Score:1, Redundant)

    by ajs318 (655362)
    There is much prior art to block this. Just telephone any big business and see! Press one if you wish to ..... and all that stuff.

    It would be supremely ironic if the USPTO are using a voice menu on their telephone system, and don't laugh it out of the door .....
  • Rockbox has this functionality already.

    E'nuf said
    Ben
  • So this safety-driven innovation will make it easier to operate an iPod while driving a car... part of me is astonished that anyone would be stupid enough to try to navigate an iPod menu while driving, but another part of me remembers that we live in a society that consistently produces Darwin Award winners of the highest calibre.

    That quote at the bottom that starts off sounding like a cautious endorsement from a safety watchdog is, in fact, saying they're still miles off:
    "If people don't need to take
  • A Missed Market (Score:4, Insightful)

    by prichardson (603676) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:52AM (#15690098) Journal
    Apple is probably doing this to make their devices more accessible to the blind. OS X has a fairly sophisticated accessibility suite, and perhaps their extending it to their iPods. I know a blind person who would love to have an iPod, if it were accessible.

    All of that said, I really hope this is something I can turn the fuck off. When I got my mobile phone it made a noise every time I'd press a button, when I'd turn it off, when I'd turn it on, when I'd dial a number, and probably a few things that I never got to. I was glad that I could turn it all off, otherwise I would have had to return it.

    There seems to be an obsession with our technology beeping and buzzing to respond to our input. I know when I press a button; I don't need a noise to tell me what happened. The only time my phone needs to make noise is when I'm getting a phone call.
    • Re:A Missed Market (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lussarn (105276)
      Yes, blind people will certanly love when somebody patents text-to-speech to use exclusively in their devices. Makes sence to me now. Thank you.
  • What part of the studies that show the problem is your MIND being distracted doing other things while driving, not just having your eyes off the road, it is that Apple doesn't understand?
  • by 99luftballon (838486) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:54AM (#15690104)
    Think of the possibilities. The ultra cool fashionista who loses all credibility when the iPod annpounces they are listening to Celine Dion for example. Cue a quick grab for the play ans a face saving "No, no, the machine's screwed - I'm listening to the Arctic Monkeys honestly..." Similarly do you really want to know the respectable commuter sitting opposite you is listening to "F**k like a beast"
  • by cliffski (65094) on Monday July 10, 2006 @07:57AM (#15690117) Homepage
    I REALLY hate it in video games the most. I am capable of reading, yet every game tutorial on earth insists on having everything spoken to me at just the slowest speed so that the average joe can follow what is going on.
    One of my favorite games (Battlefield 2) is almost ruined by the constsant spamming in my ears of "Enemy unit spotted!" "ok" "roger sir" "well done team" etc.

    Text is easy to skip, but voices arent, we seem naturally designed to respond to a voice, but we can ignore text. any device, application or game that talks to me just feels like someone nagging me. Besides, what accent will it have? pretty much everyone has at least one accent they hate, are people assuming a US accent is univerally appreciated?

    Can you *imagine* how much MORE annoying the office paperclip would be if it spoke to you?
  • Great... (Score:3, Funny)

    by InsaneLampshade (890845) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:09AM (#15690153) Homepage Journal
    So now when i'm travelling to work on the train every morning, not only do i have to put up with excessively loud music coming from peoples headphones, and people talking on their mobile phones, but *now also* people talking to their ipods. Great, just ******* great. -_-

    Anyone know where i can buy a portable, re-usable EMP device with say a 50m range?
  • But Apple says its system will break down words in a new way that makes it possible to pronounce perfectly even the most obscure song titles and artist names. It also proposes using "voice talent" - such as famous actors - to make the speech more human and add in the celebrity factor. The patent also proposes using different voice "characteristics", such as gender, for different sections of the iPod menus. Professor Steve Renals, a speech technology expert at Edinburgh University, said: "It is possible

  • I was actually just thinking a few days ago (for about the 100th time) why MP3 players didn't have voice prompts for at least some things, like "battery low" - it'd be a lot better if it said "battery low" than if it just stopped working. It's not much of a step from there to voice menus.
  • This iPod adapter that Honda makes does this; it reads to you the names of your albums, and you select the one you want when it says it.

    Too bad it sucks. [nuxx.net] First of all, it would take, like, 2 hours to read me all of my albums on my iPod, so I can't jump to anything quickly... also, you have to click a button with a second or so of it reading the one you want. This is a bad idea when driving; the only thing I should have to respond to in a timely manner while driving is, well, driving.

    One review I read o

    • This was my thought when I read the headline. I actually have this for my new car. I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say it sucks, but it's not great.

      First of all, it would take, like, 2 hours to read me all of my albums on my iPod, so I can't jump to anything quickly... also, you have to click a button with a second or so of it reading the one you want.

      Fortunately, it first lets you select a letter, then it lists all the albums (or artists, or songs, or playlists) that begin with that letter. (Unfortunat
  • I think I have talked my mother through using interfaces over the phone at least 1/2 dozen times. Last one: "Ok mom, open firefox No go to piratebay.org. uh-huh, yeah you can find music. Search for American Idol. No you are not downloading the music. You need to use a bittorrent client to download the music. Ok, lets get you a client. . ."
  • A user will have difficulty navigating the interface in "eyes-busy" situations. Such activities include, for example, driving an automobile...
    And does he use his tongue to move the click wheel? Meanwhile, what about the fucking DRIVING WHEEL and "NAVIGATING" THE CAR? Creating an interface that explicitly encourages use WHILE DRIVING is insane, and probably a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen.
    • Creating an interface that explicitly encourages use WHILE DRIVING is insane, and probably a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen.

      I'm surprised all of those companies that make car radios and CD changers are still in business. Speaking seriously, the best interface would probably be a 5-button remote.

      (1) Play/Pause
      (2) Next song
      (3) Prev song
      (4) Next playlist
      (5) Prev playlist

      I may add that the buttons should be *big* to allow their use while wearing gloves - the profusion of many tiny buttons is o

      • the best interface would probably be a 5-button remote.

        Now taht I think about it, I thought the whole point of the iPod was that you loaded it with a week's worth of songs and either a playlist or randomised it. You shouldn't need to press any controls from the beginning to end of your trip.

        Personally, despite a few gig of MP3, when I;m working I mostly just turn on the radio and let a DJ sort it out.

        • You shouldn't need to press any controls from the beginning to end of your trip.

          So, perhaps, a "I'm not really in the mood for this. NEXT!" Panic Button should be the only control on the thing? :)

          -b.

      • That's why those steering-wheel remotes are nice. Big buttons with the basic features, built right into the sterring wheel. The only problem is when you get used to them, and then have to switch vehicles. I drove a rental car for about a week that had that feature. Now that I'm back to driving my own car, every time I go to change songs I end up turning on the cruise control.
        • That's why those steering-wheel remotes are nice. Big buttons with the basic features, built right into the sterring wheel.

          Yeah, but I was thinking more like something like the dashboard of a Volvo 240. BIG dials for lights, fan, heat & A/C, thumb-sized buttons for air direction, old-fashioned rocker switches or large levers for everything else. The panel looks like it belongs in a Peterbuilt, but it's much more functional, intuitive, and easier to customize than the overdesigned interiors of cars t

  • by Speare (84249) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:10AM (#15690456) Homepage Journal

    I'd like to believe this, but frankly, Apple has been letting their TTS and STT features languish since they were introduced to Mac OSX.

    Speakable Items (speech to text commands) are a very simple arrangement: the engine is listening for a finite set of strings at any given time, so error rates are low. Fortunately, the set of strings is gathered from a set of filenames, so it's super-easy to make new strings and organize them by application. Unfortunately, most of the newer applications that are bundled with OSX have no hooks for automation nor sample scripts as speakable items. The speakable item must be an AppleScript or .app, for no discernable reason; I would love to be able to have voice-activated shell scripts without going through some ugly hack of a wrapper script, since it's "Unix" and all.

    VoiceOver (text to speech prompting) is also fairly straightforward, but there's limited support and somewhat inconsistent controls. Many of the blind folks I've seen using voice prompts on other devices want their voice prompts to be very fast, even so far as to blur the words together into abstract "earcons." The AppleScript-invoked speech does not honor the OSX talking speed preferences, so the words just ramble on taking forever to finish. The talking is not a separately controllable volume channel, so if you turn up the iTunes, then the TTS voice will start yelling at you to compete, or worse, not be able to escape the iTunes mute control.

    This is just a rumor, but for the sake of those who like or need good voice features in their interfaces, I hope it signals a new drive to finish what they've started here.

  • Wasn't it Mythbusters who showed [kwc.org] that driving while talking on a cell phone was as bad as driving drunk? It's not so much the fact our eyes are averted when we fiddle with things, it's the fact that our attention is still diverted while we try to listen to the iPod chattering on about what menu we've selected.
  • This is not for eyes off situations like when your driving. This is so that bind users can actually have full benefit of the iPod. My Blind fried would ifnd the current iPod usesless. He's more apt to go to the iPod Shuffle because of it's easier interface. With voice added, they could navigate it an dbe able to know what they are listening to.
  • before adding all of the gee-whiz crap? AM/FM tuner and voice recorder, anyone?
    • Add an AM/FM tuner to the base machine and they will give up the REAL cash cow that is iTunes Music Store. You can buy an FM tuner for another $49 directly from apple [apple.com] but I really doubt you'll ever see it included.


      The voice recorder, possibly, but a tuner I think is pretty unlikely.

  • patent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jonshipman (935910)
    If Apple didn't patent this for the iPod then someone else would come out with an mp3 player and then sued Apple for putting it into the iPod.
  • University of North Carolina's Dr. Peter Parente implemented something like this [homeip.net]. Admittedly, his audio interface for the iPod only reads off the songs and doesn't do the menu, but it's similar technology that may call the patent into question.

    In case anybody is wondering, I only know about that because I'm currently doing audio interface research, and I had read one of his papers so I had looked up what other work he's currently working on. I have no affiliation with him or UNC, but I thought some Slashdo

  • If apple is trying to instruct it's users how to use it's device while the user is otherwise engaged, i wouldn't be surprised if a judge could find apple liable for an auto accident. Plently of studies have shown that even if you are looking at traffic, if you are being given complex instructions "Move your right index ringer in a clockwise manner to fast forward, or counter-clockwise to..." you are less able to react to your surroundings. They had a really good demonstration on MythBusters, (they also got
  • Safety experts have raised concerns over cyclists, pedestrians and motorists being involved in accidents when they are distracted by their digital music devices.

    Which is why it's illegal in California to wear earphones in phone ears while driving a vehicle or riding a bike. It's California Vehicle Code 27400 [ca.gov]. Not many people would think to read the CVC for rules and laws outside the DMV handbook. Ane even fewer would read it to see if they're violating any laws while on a bike. Yes, this is enforced.
  • "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that..."
  • Phatbox (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LazyBoy (128384) on Monday July 10, 2006 @05:18PM (#15693902)
    Phatbox, an mp3 hard-drive box for the car, has had audio menus for years.

    It plugs into a CD changer interface and using the buttons on most head units, you can go forward/backward through playlists, genres, artists, albums, etc.

    It tells you where you are in the menus, so you don't have to look at it. (Another good reason is that the CD changer interface is not sophisticated enough to show that data on the head unit...)

    I think there's some alternative/oss text-to-speech sw out there, too.
  • by DaveM753 (844913)
    I swear iPods have been talking to me for years. Every time I go to the Apple Store, I hear voices saying, "Buy me!"

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