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Dragon Dictate for Mac: A Speech Recognition Miracle?

By September 30, 2010web-tech

I'm dictating this blog post using the recent “upgrade” to MacSpeech Dictate, the only speech recognition program worth trying if you have a Mac computer. The reason I put the word “upgrade” in quote marks is because Dragon Dictate for Mac is more like a complete overhaul than an upgrade. Nuance, the company that makes Dragon NaturallySpeaking (the leading Windows speech recognition program), recently bought the company that makes MacSpeech Dictate. This recent “upgrade” is the amazing result of that purchase.

 

I have been yearning to use speech recognition on my Mac for years; I know the Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows works very well, but I wasn't willing to use a Windows computer just to have speech recognition. MacSpeech Dictate was a pretty good effort, but just didn't quite cut the mustard. It was a little buggy, and it lacked many of the features that Dragon NaturallySpeaking had. In short, it just didn't work for me.

 

The $50 upgrade to Dragon Dictate for Mac seemed a little steep, but after reading David Pogue's review in the New York Times I decided to give it a whirl. I'm glad I did, because this program is the speech recognition that I was looking for on the Mac.

 

First of all, let me say for anyone who hasn't tried speech recognition before, it's a lot better now than it used to be two or three years ago. But, you still have to get used to using speech recognition software in order to get full use out of it. That is, you have to get used to the idea of speaking naturally and having your words appear quickly (but not immediately) on your computer screen. You also need to get used to how you make changes; it's best if you navigate using your voice and make changes that way so that the program can learn from its 'mistakes'. You should not make changes using your keyboard, because then the program won't know what sort of change was made. I repeat (for emphasis): this takes getting used to.

 

However, once you get used to using the program you'll be shocked at how quickly and easily you can put words onto a computer screen.

 

I won't give you a full review of this program, because it's really more a question of you playing with it and seeing if it's something that you can make use of. If you don't type very quickly then you definitely should check it out. Even if you do type pretty quickly (as I do) this kind of program can be extremely beneficial if you are willing to take the time to learn how to use it.

 

Let me give you an example of something amazing happened the other day. I was dictating a transcript from a Keynote presentation that I have prepared on the topic of going paperless. One of the slides is a picture of the Shuttle Challenger that exploded on takeoff back in the 1980s. I wanted to make a point about the temperature being much lower during that launch, and that being the reason for the explosion.

 

As I was dictating it occurred to me that I wanted to know exactly when the Shuttle Challenger exploded. Without taking my hands off the keyboard, I simply said “search Google for shuttle Challenger explosion”. Instantly, my Safari browser appeared with the search results displayed. I then said “open Dragon Dictate,” and found myself back where I was dictating. I then dictated the correct date and continued on. A few moments later I needed to say the exact temperature at the time the Shuttle Challenger lifted off, and so I said “the temperature was 33° at liftoff.” You will note that the degree symbol appears behind number 33. The program did this automatically, without me having to tell them to do that. If I had had to figure out how to put that symbol there it would've taken me at least 20 to 30 seconds.

 

The fact that the program can figure out how to spell certain words perfectly, and that it can put in strange symbols in automatically, is but one thing that makes it truly amazing. I'm now going to dictate a series of names and phrases (without making corrections) so you can see what I'm talking about.

 

  • Donovan McNabb is a great quarterback.

  • Rosie O'Grady's is a great bar.

  • Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader.

  • It's best to take the middle-of-the-road approach.

  • I went to sleep at 9:00 PM.

  • The plaintiff exhibited a certain joie de vivre.

  • I think I have Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • He fractured his left tibia, or maybe it was his metatarsal.

  • I am traveling to Islamabad next Thursday.

I think you get the point: this program is potentially very useful if you create a lot of text. As I said before, it does take some getting used to.

 

If you buy the program without an upgrade it costs $200, but comes with a microphone that you can use. I use a RevoLabs wireless mic and it works great but is a little pricey so I'd make sure that you like the program before you upgrade to a better mic.

The other recommendation I would make is this: when you start, limit your dictation to the little notepad app that is part of Dragon Dictate (you can copy and paste that text wherever you need to pretty quickly). You can dictate into applications such as Word or Mail, but don't! At least not for a few days. You want to get a sense of howwell the program works when it's operating in its optimal mode (which is why you should use the built-in notepad). Down the road you use it inside of other applications, but in the beginning keep things as simple as possible.

Speech recognition looks like magic, but it's not.  You need to accept that, for it to work well, you'll have to get used it. That takes a bit of patience, but it's well worth it once you get past the initial adaptation phase.

(Incidentally, before you try any new technology you should first watch this video to remind yourself that how amazing this stuff really is).


P.S. If you appreciate my observations, you might want to check this out.

10 Comments

  • Ernie says:

    No, I didn’t go to sleep then. But I probably wanted to and that’s why I dictated that passage. It’s definitely worth checking out! There are some minor glitches occasionally but nothing like before. This is prime time.

  • Larry Port says:

    You went to sleep at 9PM??!!

    Seriously – a compelling post, I’m actually going to try this out.

  • Ernie says:

    Hey Matt:

    You’re right that MSD was already using the Dragon engine, but the new ‘upgrade’ seems to have a lot more of the engine working. David Pogue surmised that, in buying the MSD, Nuance was making a much larger commitment to incorporating the full power of Dragon. The Mac version is, apparently, not yet equivalent to Dragon on Windows. But it’s much snappier and the commands are much more like Dragon. The old version feels toy-like compared to this new upgrade.That’s my sense, anyway.

  • Matt S. says:

    Can you go into a bit more detail about the differences between Dragon Dictate for Mac, and MacSpeech Dictate? I am a little confused because I thought MacSpeech Dictate was ALREADY using the NaturallySpeaking engine. What are the main differences?

    Thanks!

  • Fred says:

    “Anyone else having this problem?”

    Yes, I’ve noticed this problem also sometimes. Under preferences, I changed the speed versus recognition slider towards speed, previously it was at about 75%, now it’s more like around 50%. It seems to be working better than before, but sometimes I still get this problem and I’m running on a Mac Pro tricked out machine.

  • David swedelson says:

    I loved MacSpeech Dictate and as a long time user I do not feel that what Nuance did as an overhaul. Yes, it seems faster. But I have developed a problem that Nuance is not addressing; after I use Dragon Dictate for a while, my computer slows up. Editing in Word or Mail becomes slow with a spinning ball appearing all the time. I know that this is a Dragon Dictate issue because it only started after I upgraded to the new program and the problem goes away after I quit Dragon Dictate. Now I cannot open Macspeech Dictate. Anyone else having this problem?

  • Tom R. says:

    You mentioned the MacSpeech Dictate program was a “little” buggy. I tried over a couple of different releases to use it but it consistently crashed 2 or 3 or 4 times an hour. Have you run into any reliability issues with the Dragon version?

  • John says:

    Very interesting, thanks for the explanation! I love the Dragon Dictation iPhone app – it makes sense that their desktop app would also be terrific.

  • Ernie says:

    You can control some of the Mac interface, but as David Pogue pointed out, it’s not as good as the Windows version. I assume it will improve over time. But it’s pretty good now, and I would guess that someone who had a strong motivation to make it work would spend more time trying to figure it out than me.

  • Disabled NYC says:

    How are the commands for controlling the Mac interface? Can everything be done hands-free?

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