There's no secret that I'm a voice dictation fan. I know a lot of folks that enjoy fancy pens and artisan notebooks but for me words (particularly first draft words) are more something that I want to get out of my system than something to lavish upon. I started using dictation tools about 20 years ago, when they were pretty crappy.
Nowadays, however, our computers are a lot faster than those of 20 years ago and voice dictation software is quite a bit smarter. One of the leaders in this space is (and always has been) Nuance and its Dragon Professional for Mac dictation software.
A Brief History Lesson about Dragon and the Mac
For a long time, the Mac was a wasteland for dictation software. In 2008, a product called "MacSpeech Dictate" showed up and it was workable, so long as you had never used the superior Dragon Dictate on PC. (I used to run a virtual PC on my Mac largely for the purpose of using Dragon Dictate for PC.) Then MacSpeech licensed the Dragon dictation engine and things got better. A year later, Nuance bought MacSpeech Dictate outright and turned it into Dragon Professional for Mac. Since then Dragon Professional for Mac has been the gold standard for dictation on the Mac. The built-in macOS dictation isn't bad but also can't keep up with Dragon Professional for Mac on accuracy or features.
The Skinny on Version 6
Every year or two, Nuance releases an update to Dragon for Mac. Version 6 just landed and I've been using the heck out of it. The short version of this story is that dictation and usability improvements make Dragon Professional for Mac version 6 both a great product to get in on if you want to get serious about dictation and a worthy upgrade for existing users. Here come the details…
One of the reasons a lot of people don't get very far with dictation is the training process. It takes time to get your microphone set properly and then train the application to understand your voice and speech peculiarities. This new version does away with much of the previously required training and instead does a better job of learning through your use of the product.
The app is also better at distinguishing your words from background noise. That makes the app more forgiving. I normally dictate using my high quality podcast microphone. However, for the past few weeks, I've been using my Mac's internal microphone to dictate words (including these). There is a small accuracy hit but it's really not that bad. A few years ago, the application was unusable with built-in microphones. Now I think you could pull this off, even in an environment with low background noise.
Dictation Speed and Accuracy
Every version of Dragon Dictate boasts improved accuracy. Nuance reports this update improves accuracy by 15%. So long as I dictate complete sentences and don't try to change course in the middle of a thought, I was already getting very high accuracy with version 5. Indeed, this is the secret to all dictation. If you give the application clear enough enunciation and context, Dragon can be extremely accurate. With a 1,000 word dictation, I normally have 5-10 corrections. Let's call it 99%. With version 6, I'm still getting excellent accuracy. I ran a few tests and I'm getting about the same numbers with version 6.
The difference, however, with version 6 is dictation speed. Put simply, the words are showing up on the screen faster, making dictation easier. I like that.
There are a couple reasons for this. One is that the engine is just faster. Another is some underlying technology improvements with the way Dragon views words on your screen. Up until now, typing and dictating at the same time with Dragon on a Mac was the dictation equivalent of crossing the streams. That's not true with Version 6. Through clever use of Apple's accessibility API, Dragon can now monitor text and edits you make on screen while you dictate. This only works in applications that support the accessibility API but Scrivener, TextEdit, and Pages are among them. New apps are getting added as Nuance verifies their accessibility support.
While the underlying engine of Dragon Dictate for Mac has been on par with its PC counterpart for years, the Mac version's user interface has been playing catch up with the much more mature PC version. Nuance made big strides with version 6 with revamped status and correction windows that feel less … well … goofy. They also cleaned up the way the windows display commands and the preferences selection screen. These changes are a welcome face lift but they were also designed to reduce the number of clicks and scrolls required to get things done.
Transcription, the act of extracting text from a pre-recorded voice file, used to be a separate product but got added to Dragon Dictate as a built-in feature a few versions ago. However, it always felt a bit like it was bolted on to Dragon Dictate. The new version fixes this. Transcription is now fully integrated into the application. Moreover, they've removed the need for training. Dragon instead trains its transcription engine with the first 90-seconds of your first transcription file. They've also added a batch transcription tool. I often record several small recordings and transcribing them all at once is a nice improvement.
In the last year Nuance has improved the ecosystem around their dictation software. I also use Dragon Anywhere for dictation on iOS. With the latest version of Dragon Dictate for Mac, custom vocabulary words are now shared between Mac and iOS devices. If I add a new word on my iPad and then find myself dictating it on the Mac a few days later, it just works.
I use Dragon Professional for Mac every day. I think a lot of people that gave up on dictation 10 years ago are missing out. If that's you, check out the new Dragon.