September 13, 2012

Walking through the iPhone 5 HD Voice Headaches


Do you have an Apple iPhone 5 headache? Trying to parse through the last 24 hours of hard facts, re-echoed bits and pieces and one bad assumption on my part has given me one.

Yesterday, I wrote "I'm going to assume Apple rolled in Audience's earSmart sound processing algorithms directly onto the A6 chip." Bad assumption!

Audience issued a press release last week saying its voice processing technology was "unlikely" to be incorporated into Apple's next-generation handset (i.e., the iPhone 5). Big miss on my part, big hit on Audience's stock price when they sent out the release. Audience's earSmart silicon chip was put into the iPhone 4 and what it calls its "processor IP" algorithms were licensed by Apple and incorporated into the A5 chip. 

Apple appears to have has built dedicated voice processing expertise in-house -- not surprising when you have a little personal assistant feature called "Siri" built around voice recognition technology. Before Siri can do natural language processing, it first has to get good voice input. Getting good voice input means you have to be able to not only do all the standard tricks of the trade like echo cancellation, but more advanced features like background noise suppression. 

One of the reasons why the iPhone 5 has three microphones is to be able to acoustically pinpoint a speaker's voice when the handset is next to a person's head. Once that information is known, you can apply algorithms to focus in on the speaker's voice in the media stream and filter out background noises from such sources as street traffic or the buzz of a crowded room.   Such filtering needs to take place at the handset level, so the cleaned up voice can be passed along to Siri for interpretation.

Then there's the whole Sprint "doesn't support HD voice on the iPhone 5" meme now circling. The official answer from a spokesperson is "Sprint does not support HD voice on the iPhone 5 at this time." Trying to get more detailed clarification as to what type of HD voice service is not supported on the dual CDMA/LTE mode device results in a repetition of "Sprint does not support HD voice on the iPhone 5 at this time."

Is there wiggle room here on the "at this time" point?

I tried to pin down whether or not there's simply no embedded support for HD voice on the CDMA network and there could be forthcoming HD voice support when Sprint introduces Voice over LTE (VoLTE), but no budge from the party line.

When Sprint turns up Voice over LTE (VoLTE) sometime next year, an iPhone 5 running over an LTE network should be able to support HD voice, since voice is just another application over an LTE network. Unless there's some incompatible complexities going on in the background that U.S. carriers generally don't want to talk about as they're in a hurry to sell as many iPhones as they can.




Edited by Jamie Epstein



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