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).