Apple has filed a new patent that could lead to spoken word text messages for iPhone users.

The patent seems to promise that users will be able to send text messages without using standard GSM text message protocols, and the message received would then be converted into audio for later playback.

The patent was filed with US patent and trademark authorities on 26 July, MacNN reports.

The patent suggests the technology could be of use to visually impaired people or those with small screens on their handsets.

That latter point could be of interest should Apple make a smaller ‘nano’ iPhone.

Following discussion with Apple vice president of worldwide iPod and iPhone product marketing, Greg Joswiak, analysts at RBC Capital told investors that future iPhones will be differentiated by price and memory.

That statement emerges as long-standing rumours suggest Apple will release a small, stripped-down iPhone nano - possibly before the end of the year.

The analyst firm also suggests that European users will be able to buy an iPhone this year, but that a 3G version of the device may not debut until 2008.