How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apple’s Dictation vs DragonDictate

Voice Dictation Apple   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictateFor a long time if you wanted or needed to use a speech-to-text dictation program on your Mac, your only choices were MacSpeech Dictate (now defunct) and Nuance’s DragonDictate. But with the release of Mountain Lion, Apple has for the first time built text dictation into the operating system.

This feature allows you to actually speak sentences into your Mac’s microphone and see them typed out for you, a lot faster than you could type what you say. Apple’s Dictation feature works similarly to how it does in the iPhone 4S.

However, while the Mountain Lion Dictation feature is a welcome addition to the upgraded OS, it does have limitations you should know about, especially if you’re curious about using text dictation for longer pieces of writing. This article explains how to use Dictation and what its limitations are.

How Dictation Works

In OS X 10.8, you can call up the Dictation feature in any text application on the Mac by pressing the Fn (Function)¬†button on your keyboard. When prompted to do so, clearly speak a sentence or two of text (say the word, “period” at the end of your sentence) and then hit the Fn or Return key after you’re finished. In a second or two your words will be typed, Star Trek style, faster than you could type them manually.

dictation feature 1   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictate

To add more text, just press the Fn key again. Each of your sentences will automatically begin with a capital letter. And if you speak clearly and directly, the Dictation feature can be pretty accurate most of the time. Also, you can pause and think about what you’re going to say before you say it, and Dictation will wait. So don’t feel intimidated into speaking quickly.

Dictation feature 12   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictate

If you open System Preferences > Dictation & Speech, you can change the shortcut for activating Dictation, as well as turn it on and off. You can also choose the mic (if you have more than one connected to your Mac) for listening to your dictation.

dictation feature 3   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictate

However, make note of what it says in the About Dictation and Privacy. In order to use Dictation, your Mac must be connected to the Internet. If it does not work, it’s probably because your Mac is experiencing problems with the router connection.

dictation feature 4   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictate

One of the drawbacks with using Dictation is that you must be connected to the Internet, and what you say will be recorded and sent to Apple, including other information in your computer, including the contact names (first names and nicknames) in your Address Book (renamed Contacts in Mountain Lion). Apple says that:

“All of this data is used to help the dictation feature understand you better and recognize what you say. Your User Data is not linked to other data that Apple may have from your use of other Apple services.”

You can disable Dictation, but when you do so, all your user data on Apple’s side will be deleted, as well as your recent voice input data. You can read the rest of the privacy policy for yourself, but apparently collecting this data makes the feature over time more accurate. Nevertheless, there should be a way to use the feature without an Internet connection.

When To Use It

Apple’s Dictation feature is highly welcomed, especially for those of us with poor typing, spelling, or hand disabilities. However, because you can’t see what you dictate until after you click the shortcut key, the Dictation feature is most useful for writing short emails, comments, tweets and notes. It’s not useful for long pieces of writing.

The most widely used dictation program for the Mac has been Nuances DragonDictate and Dragon Express. With these programs, your dictations get typed immediately after you pause or come to full stop in a sentence. You can also verbally edit your dictated text as you “write.” This cannot be done with Apple’s Dictation feature.

Dragon Express does not seem to be updated yet for Mountain Lion. DragonDictate does appear to be stable on the new operating system, however.

How Accurate Is It?

Compared to DragonDictate, the OS X Dictation program is just as accurate, and even more so because it’s built into the operating system. Below is a screenshot of a few test sentences. The feature will recognize proper nouns and names, but it will have trouble with words that sound the same but have different spellings. I dictated “Micheal Wood,” and it kept typing “would.”

dictation feature 2   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictate

If you speak too fast, the feature misunderstands what you say, as when I dictated “I write for.” However, notice that in terms of accuracy, the Dictation feature will always correctly spell words. It can misinterpret what you say, but it uses the dictionary to correctly spell words based on what it thinks you said. Even “Rhineforte” in the screenshot above is actually a street name.

Dictation Commands

Another limitation with Dictation is that you can’t train it to use the words you want. Unlike with DragonDictate, I can’t for example train it to recognize and type “MakeUseOf.com“, as you can see in the screenshot above. Notice, also, as with the Dictation program in the iPhone 4S, when a blue dotted line appears under one or more words, the program may give a suggestion for what it thought you meant. When you put your cursor at the end of those dots, alternative suggestions will appear, and if one is correct just click on it, and the correction will be made.

You can also use some limited quotation commands with this Dictation feature. The most common command you will use of course is “period,” or “full stop” at the end of your sentences. You can also dictate other punctuation, including “question mark,” ”explanation point,” “open parenthesis,” “close parenthesis,” “quote,” “new paragraph,” and “new line.”

Even when you use these commands correctly, the program still may misinterpret what you meant (as in the example below.)

dictation feature 13   How To Dictate Writing On Your Mac: Apples Dictation vs DragonDictate

Also, if you dictate, “I owe her ten dollars and forty-six cents,” the Dictation feature will type “$10.46.” Since Dictation is based on Nuance technology, part of which Siri diction is based, you can use this list of Dragon Dictation commands found in iSource.com. However, Dictation is not as advanced as DragonDictate – at least not yet – so don’t expect it to accurately do all your typing for you.

Learning Dictation

If you’ve never used a speech to text dictation program, doing so can almost feel like learning how to write again, because the difference between typing and dictating is that you have to think about what you say before you say it. So one way to develop diction skills is simply to use the program everyday. You might use Dictation for daily journal writing, or posting tweets. Use it regularly, and carefully re-read and edit what it types out for you.

Let us know what you think about the new Dictation feature in Mountain Lion. Also, if you want to boss your Mac around in other ways, check out this article on other Mac speech commands.

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27 Comments -

Ty Neal

Interesting article. I prefer DragonDictation.

Bakari Chavanu

Ty, I agree. If you’re avid user of text dictation, DD is the way to go. My wager is that Apple will improve the built-in dictation feature in coming updates. I’ve read more than a few times that DD is kind of the engine behind the Dictation feature in Mountain Lion.

Ty Neal

Apple always does improve! Also, DD has more options availible such as apps in the apps store (I use their microphone app beucase i can get my ipod closer to me than my mac which improves the dictation).

Bakari Chavanu

True, I’ve used the remote app for DD to walk around my office as I dictate. However, I do have to say that DD is not as stable as I would like. Apple’s dictation works in nearly all text supported apps on the Mac. It’s not useful for extended pieces of writing, but it’s good for short comments like the one.

Ty Neal

Agreed!

Dave

“[…] the OS X Dictation program is just as accurate, and even more so because it‚Äôs built into the operating system.”

Accuracy has nothing to do with where the code resides, it has to do with the voice recognition code, the training method and corpus, etc.

Bakari Chavanu

Oh, I agree that the dictation feature is very accurate and I point that out in the article. But compared to Dragon Dictate, it is not as useful for extended pieces of writing. It’s great for the type of writing I’m doing right now.

Dave

That’s not my point. You stated that it’s accurate (and more so) because it’s built in to the OS. That’s not what drives voice recognition accuracy; accuracy is a function of how to the voice recognition is programmed, not where the code is (OS vs. application).

Bakari Chavanu

Okay, gotcha. So what do you think about this business of Apple requiring that dictated text be sent their server and back to your computer? Do you really think that helps with accuracy as well?

Dave

In the sense that it allows (a) further corpus training material (and even more if they get corrections back) and (b) they have a lot more computing horsepower than your laptop does, yes. Its general (i.e., non-user-specific training) accuracy would tend to improve over time.

Whether or not it would end up being better (e.g., faster, more accurate, etc.) than a local, dedicated package, I don’t know. There are always privacy concerns, but that’s ultimately a non-technical issue.

medusozoa

I’m actually quite impressed by Apple’s dictation software, despite not using it frequently. I’m quite certain I’ll find reasons to use it in the future.

Bakari Chavanu

Oh yes definitely, it works fine for what it does. Thanks for your feedback.

muotechguy

Actually, I think if you were to add “MakeUseOf.com” to your contacts with a phonetic spelling, it would correctly recognise it. It’s not built to recognise every name in the world, but it does dynamically build the corpus of lexical elements from your own system.

Bakari Chavanu

Good point, I will give it a try. That sounds similar to using the dictation feature on the iPhone.

onekerato.com

Ability to dictate quickly is quite useful for situations where we enter text in short increments – such as when placing markers in a video editing app, or text annotations in PDFs. In these situations, your hands are probably busy with the mouse or trackpad, and using BetterTouchTool to assign a gesture to start dictation makes the process even more enjoyable. Personally, Dragon Dictate works better for my accent and lags less.

Bakari Chavanu

Onekerato, thanks for your feedback. I use BetterTouchTool in almost everything I do on my Mac.

Arie

Thank you for this information, I am using mountain lion
dictate my text here. I am not much of a touch typist, so it is a pretty good new feature from me. Although I have found that with my MacBook air is the microphone on the chassis does not seem to be very accurate. So I’m using an external microphone. But it seems now my voice data needs to be retrained in order to get accuracy again. So do voice database seems to become somewhat garbled by using different microphones.
A great new feature but it certainly takes some patience.

Bakari Chavanu

Hmmm, Arie, with the built-in Dictation feature, you shouldn’t have to do any voice training. I use Dictation feature on my MBA as well, and I find I slightly better results when I’m using the mic on my iPhone earphones, which puts the mic closer to my mouth. But it also works with the built-in mic of the MBA. You do have to enunciate your words clearly, but there typically be errors in how it records what you say. And you right, some microphones might not work as well with the Dictation feature.

Kofi Agyeman

i¬†can’t¬†use¬†dictatiOn.it¬†says¬†it’s¬†nOt¬†available¬†in¬†sOuth¬†africa¬†and¬†tO¬†chOOse¬†anOther¬†language,¬†but¬†even¬†when¬†i¬†chOOse¬†US¬†english,¬†it¬†still¬†dOesn’t¬†wOrk…

Bakari Chavanu

Hmmm, Kofi, it sounds like the app is not universal as it should be. I would try to write Apple and request your language be added.

Rob Stark, King of the North

I like your mustache.

Rob Stark, King of the North

I really like your mustache.

Bakari Chavanu

Okay. lol

Seth

Question: should I also purchase Dragon?

I have been using Dragon for many years… And they finally nailed in version 11.5. I use Dragon for responding to emails to employees — but not to clients, since Dragon is still prone to errors that could confuse the reader, but which I may not notice before I hit send.

Dragon is also great for dumping hand written notes into the Word to be sorted out later.

I turn off the Command feature to improve accuracy.

So… I’m just now (Nov 2012) buying a new Mac Air – moving from a ThinkPad PC. Should I install Dragon on the Air?

Bakari Chavanu

Seth, Dragon for the Mac has gotten much better with each update. It’s not perfect, but if you want to rest your fingers from typing, it’s worth using. It works fine on my MacBook Air using the built-in mic or the mic on a pair of iPhone earbuds.

Tom Buckman

What is time limit for DD? Only 30 sec for Mountain Lion…

Bakari Chavanu

There’s no time limit on DD. When you pause during dictation, it will immediately type what you say.