Apple Unveils More iOS 5 Details: Voice Control and Other New Software and Services

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The new and improved iOS 5 is coming from Apple, this much we knew. But what we didn’t know was that it’s coming so soon: October 12.

Apple iOS 5Apple’s new mobile operating system will be available on a number of its devices, including the iPhone 4 and 3GS, both iterations of the iPad, and the third and fourth generation iPod touch models. It was announced at Apple’s “Let’s Talk iPhone” keynote that was held today at 1 PM EST in Cupertino, CA, alongside many other unveilings, including the iPhone 4S.

The new features of iOS 5 are widely known at this point, however, so those announcements did not come as much of a surprise. These include updates to the camera app, Game Center, Safari (now with tabbed browsing), email, and the Newsstand app. There will also be new features like Twitter integration, location-based reminders, notifications, and the all-new iMessage service, which operates similarly to BlackBerry Messenger. With it, users can get read receipts while sending and receiving text, photos, and video that gets pushed to all of their iOS devices over 3G and Wi-Fi.

But there were also other software and service reveals at the keynote, some of the details of which were previously unknown.

Let’s Welcome the New Sentient Being, Siri
One of the biggest reveals was the official announcement of the previously-rumored Siri — a voice command/recognition service that operates more like an AI — which allows users to ask questions and give directions to their iPhone by simply holding down the home button and speaking. Though Scott Forstall, the iOS senior vice president, had to speak slowly and clearly during a demonstration at the event, Siri carried out his commands with ease. He asked Siri to set an alarm for 6 A.M. tomorrow, asked it for Greek restaurants in the area, asked it to read his text messages, and it did it. But the commands can also get more complex and that’s where Siri steps up its game.

Apple iOS 5 Voice ControlIf you receive a text message from “Phil” asking if you can do lunch on Friday, you can ask Siri if you are available. When it says that you are, you can ask Siri to reply “I can do Friday,” and it automatically writes up the text message and knows to send it straight to Phil, who texted you in the first place. In the aftermath, Siri will then make a calendar appointment for the lunch with Phil

Siri can also work in tandem with location services; you can ask it to set up a reminder to call your significant other when you leave work, at which point it will set up a “geofence” around your place of work, basically a GPS-based perimeter. When you cross it, the reminder is triggered. There are plenty of other uses for Siri, including remote dictation (there will now be a microphone icon located on the keyboard next to the spacebar), asking for definitions, and web searches.

Supposedly the quality of Siri improves as it learns the sound of your voice, but it will be beta to start, with more languages (in addition to English, French, and German) and services coming. But there was some element of mystery to the announcement, as Apple did not say when Siri would be made available, and whether or not it would be restricted to the upcoming iPhone 4S.

Find My FriendsSo What Other Software and Services are on the Way?

Though perhaps not as complicated, Apple also announced an upcoming app called Find My Friends, which uses GPS to advertise the location of users to their friends, provided that they give permission, of course. Parents can use it to see if their kid made it to school okay, while friends can find each other in cities or crowded locations. But for those of you who are concerned about privacy, you can also adjust the settings so your location is only shared for a limited time. Either way, think of Find My Friends as a sort of real-time version of Foursquare.

Apple iCloudThe rumblings about iCloud were also confirmed when it was announced today. It was revealed that Apple’s cloud storage and syncing service would be released alongside its new operating system on October 12. Besides letting users store (and edit) various content including photos, music, and documents, it will also wirelessly push the content to all of their iOS devices while backing it all up daily. All users will receive 5 GB of cloud storage for free, with upgrades to 10, 20, and 50 GB available for $20, $40, and $100 per year, respectively.

On the subject of finances, a slightly less popular announcement was that of the new music service, iTunes Match, which won’t be free. By scanning users’ music collections and comparing them to the songs in the iTunes Library, iTunes Match will “upload what we don’t find, and match what we do,” according to Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue.

iTunes MatchOnce iTunes Match, well…matches, and fills in users’ libraries entirely with iTunes tracks, it will let customers sync their full libraries across their iOS devices and begin streaming immediately (with the matched songs being upgraded to an ostensibly higher quality AAC audio format). Any adjustments made to your library while using iTunes Match, including making and changing playlists, will automatically be synced and reflected across all of your iOS devices.

But unlike iCloud, iTunes Match will not have a free option, instead running users $24.99 a year. And unfortunately, it will not drop on the same day as iOS 5 and the iCloud, instead being slated for a “late October” release window.

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