Last week a reliable source (who asked not to be named) approached TUAW with information about upcoming iPhone features that sounded incredible. We didn't run the post at that time, however, both out of concern for the source and because we couldn't corroborate the details.
This morning, 9to5 Mac posted pretty much exactly what we heard from our source -- that the next iPhone is going to feature an amazing voice control and device navigation system called Assistant.
That's not all -- the source (who may or may not be the same person who talked with 9to5) told us that the iPhone will come packed with 1 GB of RAM and the Apple A5 dual-core processor, as well as a vastly improved 8 MP camera. 9to5 reported some details TUAW didn't get, including that the new phone will contain Qualcomm's Gobi Baseband chipset for use as a true world phone (GSM and CDMA).
The Assistant, however, is a game-changer. Assistant is an outgrowth of Voice Control, which was introduced with the iPhone 3GS in 2009. It is based on technology from Siri, a company that was purchased by Apple last year. The Assistant requires the power of the A5 CPU as well as the 1 GB of RAM, which is why existing iPhones will not be able to take advantage of the new feature.
The speech interface is launched by holding the home button for several seconds, after which a microphone interface slides up from the bottom of the screen, covering only about a quarter of the display. In contrast to the existing iPhone Voice Control capabilities, Assistant can help you with just about anything.
Want to send an iMessage without typing? I could just say "send a text to Barb saying I'm going to the bank" and the message is created and sent. You can also use Assistant with the location-based reminder feature in the iOS Reminders app, by using commands like "Remind me to buy Vitamin D when I'm at Whole Foods Market." Voice requests for directions are also a feature -- asking "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" won't result in the expected response ("practice, practice, practice") but directions from your current location to 881 7th Avenue in New York City.
Assistant also has a conversation view, in which the system literally converses with the user in order to provide the best results. Let's say set up a meeting with Tim Cook on October 4th. You'd say "Set up a meeting with Tim Cook," and the iPhone would respond by asking "Which email address should Tim Cook be notified at, home or work?" When you'd respond "Work,", the iPhone would ask the time and date you want to schedule the meeting for. At the end of the conversation, you'd be shown the details of the calendar event for confirmation.
We're told that you can speak to the Assistant in your normal tone and speed of voice; it's that accurate. Assistant is also integrated with Wolfram Alpha, so you could also ask your iPhone questions like "Convert 10.2 acres to hectares" or "What's the cube root of 924?" and get an immediate answer.
One more fascinating feature that is likely to be packed with privacy settings is "Find my Friends." With this feature, you could ask your phone "Where's Erica Sadun?" and (provided she's made her location information available to me) the iPhone would display her location. This could be very useful for finding TUAW teammates at Macworld Expo 2012.
As with any leaked information, this could all be a ploy by Apple to a) figure out who is leaking to the Apple press or b) get all of us excited about an upcoming announcement. Well, we're already quivering with anticipation about the announcement, and if the new device(s) are anything remotely like what we've heard about, Apple will have another winner on its hands.
Update: A slightly less reputable source adds that the upcoming iPhone also features AirPlay mirroring, which is found on the iPad 2 but not on the iPhone 4. This feature allows any app
to be viewed via AirPlay video streaming to be mirrored full-screen to an Apple TV -- as though the device were connected with an HDMI cable straight to the TV.