As a computer geek, I have been fortunate to live in amazing times. I grew up watching the birth of the personal computer. I saw the internet transform from a college project to a global phenomenon, and I’ve been trying to get my computers to listen to me since the beginning of speech recognition software.
About 10 years ago, when speech recognition was first being introduced to the masses, I tried it out. It was terrible. You … had … to … put … a … space … between … every … word. While those initial experiments were fun, the technology ultimately came up short. I work on a PC at the office and a few years ago I tried again. This second attempt was much more successful. The Dragon Dictate engine on the PC software made huge strides. No longer do you have to put spaces between words. You can speak naturally and, with some training, the computer gets very good at understanding your voice. I write for a living and Dragon Dictate quickly became a regular part of my computing experience.
I was always disappointed that the Apple Macintosh did not have a similarly adroit speech recognition application. The PC beating the Mac with voice recognition is like seeing an old beater car with a killer stereo. It just makes you hurt a little bit. So you can imagine my excitement last January when I discovered MacSpeech Dictate at Macworld. MacSpeech licensed the Dragon recognition engine for the Mac. This was no vaporware. They had working demonstrations and if they had it ready, I would have bought it that day. Going back and reading my Macworld 2008 coverage, I forgot just how much I lusted after this software. As soon as MacSpeech released a few months later, I had it installed on my Mac. The application is now at version 1.2. The question now becomes, was it worth the wait? The short answer is yes.
This product includes both the software and a voice friendly headset microphone and a USB sound device allowing you to plug the headset in. After installing the application, MacSpeech Dictate walks you through a remarkably short tutorial. Once again, my age is showing. I remember when training voice dictation software would take hours. My total set up time on this application was about 15 minutes. Once you’ve done the basic setup and microphone adjustment, you simply load your favorite word processor and get going. Where this application really shines is text input. I can sit down and dictate correspondence, work documents, and even this review as quickly as I can form the words. The trick I found was not to mix typing and talking. In addition to recognizing your voice, MacSpeech Dictate needs to keep track of where the cursor is. If you edit the document while dictating, you’re very likely to confuse the application and cause unacceptable, and sometimes humorous, results. So my workflow with MacSpeech Dictate is to simply talk through my rough draft. So long as I focus on dictating and typing separately, the accuracy is remarkable. You will need to proofread the final product closely and the application will confuse some words but generally that is more a result of me getting sloppy in the dictation process then the application itself. MacSpeech Dictate needs you to articulate your words properly. This doesn’t mean that you have to be extra careful with the way you speak. It simply means you can’t get lazy and began slurring words together like a drunken sailor.
Using MacSpeech Dictate, I can get raw text into my machine significantly quicker and with much less pain to my fingers. It has a built-in editor but I have also used it to dictate text directly into Scrivener, Pages, and Apple Mail.
If you are about to dictate a unique word, there is a spelling mode that allows you to stop and spell a particular word or name. There is also a procedure to allow you to train new phrases. For instance, my day job requires me to use some unique latin words and phrases. If I just start spewing these words into MacSpeech Dictate, it will tie itself in knots. However, if I stop and train these phrases and words, MacSpeech Dictate picks them up no problem.
In addition to inputting text, MacSpeech Dictate includes a command mode that allows you to drive your Mac with your voice. There is even a convenient commands window to help acquaint you. Using my voice, I can launch applications, perform menu commands, switch between applications, and a host of other possibilities. With a little practice using the command mode, you could operate your Macintosh without touching the keyboard. For people with disabilities, this could open a whole new world.
This software is simply amazing and long overdue on the Macintosh platform. This being said, the software is very new and not nearly as mature as the Dragon Dictate software on the PC. The error correction system is not as robust and some of the tools are simply missing. Nevertheless , MacSpeech Dictate represents a huge improvement to voice dictation on the Macintosh platform.
Without a doubt, speech recognition has finally made it to the Macintosh. Harnessing the Dragon engine, and the years of experience in technology that goes with it, was a stroke of genius. I’m easily talking to my Mac. The MacSpeech Dictation package, including the disk, manual, and microphone sells for $199. While this is no small investment, it is not particularly expensive for voice dictation software. The Dragon Dictate software on the PC also sells for $200. If you spend a lot of time typing or have a disability, this software could pay for itself very quickly. It has for me. If you are interested in purchasing MacSpeech dictate, click the affiliate link on the left and you can additionally help me pay for bandwidth.
You can listen to this review on the MacReviewcast episode 187.