Apple + new patent = iPhone speculation
U.S. approves patent for speech technology fueling predictions of iPod maker's second shot at a cell phone.

NEW YORK ( -- Apple Computer Inc. won a patent for a speech-recognition technology earlier this week, fueling speculation that the iPod-maker is laying the groundwork for a future "iPhone."

The patent, approved Tuesday by the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office, allows Apple to assign "meanings to spoken utterances in a speech recognition system."


The Apple-focused blog Mac News Network, which first reported the news, suggested that the patent, which was first filed in February of 2004, could be used for a future "iPhone."

Apple (down $0.01 to $82.18, Charts) has long been rumored to be creating a cell phone that both fields calls and plays music, dubbed an "iPhone", in an effort to drive sales beyond its popular iPod, which faces threats from Microsoft (up $0.34 to $28.69, Charts), which is set to release its Zune MP3 player next month.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has suggested that such a phone is forthcoming.

"We believe in six months the halo effect will expand beyond a simple iPod-to-Mac correlation into a four-way relationship with iPod, Mac, iPhone, and iTV benefiting from each other's success," Munster said in a note to clients, Reuters reported.

Apple previously launched a co-branded cell phone with Motorola (down $0.22 to $23.37, Charts) in 2005, called the ROKR, but the phone failed to live up to expectations, was dogged by negative reviews.

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