Safari Enables ‘SpeechRecognition’ by Default in Tech Preview Release
The release notes for the Safari tech preview fit the speech recognition updates among changes in scrolling, media, and other facets of the browser. At the top of the list is setting SpeechRecognition on by default. The SpeechRecognition interface is what allows the browser to discern someone speaking from other audio, understand what is being said, and formulate a response. It’s a crucial step toward adding voice controls and interactions for any voice assistant. The update also puts the prefix ‘webkit’ in front of SpeechRecognition and changes speech recognition in Safari to adjust when it responds, turning it off in instances when a page’s audio capture is muted or if the page becomes invisible.
The technical update suggests Safari is laying the groundwork to supporting the Web Speech API created by Mozilla, which allows web apps to process voice data and make voice controls feasible. The Web Speech API uses speech recognition to detect and integrate the voice data, while its speech synthesis aspect handles text-to-speech, which lets programs read text on websites and talk back to the user. Web Speech is already supported by Google Chrome on Android and desktop, as well as Microsoft Edge and Samsung’s browser. Safari does not yet support it in either desktop or mobile forms. If Safari does make a move to adding more voice options, it would presumably give that access to Siri, making the voice assistant more useful for web browsing, especially on mobile devices. That may not come about until the next big update with iOS 15.
Apple’s test of speech recognition for Safari and the possible inclusion of Mozilla’s Web Speech API comes just as Mozilla has officially set the end date for Firefox Voice the voice control browser extension it has been beta testing for a year. The extension operated like a voice assistant within the browser awakened by clicking on a microphone icon. It could answer questions via a search engine and open specific web pages if it understood the name of the website. Like Voice Fill, it managed browser tabs and media playback on videos, including YouTube. The extension used the Google Cloud Speech Service, routing voice commands through Google’s servers. Now, the code will be open-source, but Mozilla won’t be supporting it. Whatever voice control Safari adds, it will still be behind Google, which has been introducing Google Assistant as a way to do searches by voice on Android devices.