Create Powerful Custom Mac Voice Commands With Yosemite & Automator
Here’s a Yosemite feature you might have missed: Apple has made it easier to create custom voice commands using Automator.
Instead of clicking buttons, typing keyboard shortcuts, and manually launching applications, use voice commands instead and improve your workflow and productivity. The speech command functionality of OS X have improved greatly since we last tried it out .
Apple has integrated its improved voice dictation feature with system-wide voice commands that are useful for all types of computer related tasks. Here’s how to run your Automator workflows using this new input method.
Basic Voice Commands
To use the new speech command features, you will first need to open System Preferences > Dictate, and enable your Mac’s dictation feature. By default, the system will select the internal mic on your Mac, but you can select (under the mic icon) a different external mic for perhaps better performance.
Checking Use Enhanced Dictation will cause your Mac to download additional software, allowing it to perform offline. To activate Dictation, tap the Function key twice.
When you hear a beep, and the dictation icon appears, you can start speaking commands. For example, you can say, “Launch Calendar”, “Hide Mail,” or “Save Document.”
Say, “Show commands,” and a pop-up window will display available voice commands, or what used to be called speakable items. You can also head to System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > Text to Speech > Open Accessibility Preferences… > Dictation > Dictation Commands… to view a listing of all the default commands.
Saying, “How do I (phrase)” shows one or more possible commands you’re looking for. And the, “Stop listening” command will close the dictation icon. Note that when Dictation is enabled, all background audio is muted.
Apple provides a nice set of default voice commands, but using its classic automation program, Automator , you can create your own custom commands for various tasks.
Making Your Own Commands
To create custom speakable items, launch your Mac’s Automator application, installed by default with OS X. You will be asked where you want to save the new macro, and in the following window, select Dictation Command.
Automator contains dozens of actions that can be triggered by voice commands. As an example, I’m going to create a speakable item that downloads a website (MakeUseOf.com) in an application (Safari). Select Internet under the Actions column, and then select and drag the Get Specified URLs action into the main workflow window.
Replace the current default address with the MakeUseOf.com address, then select and drag the Display Webpages action into the next stage of the workflow. To test the workflow, you can click the Run button in the top-right of the toolbar.
At the top of the screen you can assign the workflow a dictation command – I’m going to use “Open Make Use Of.” Check the Command Enabled box, and save the macro. You now should be able to speak and trigger the command you just typed, and the speakable item should also be listed in the Dictation pane in System Preferences.
As another example, you can create another speakable item to play a selected playlist in iTunes. Click the Add button in the Get Specified iTunes Items action to input a playlist.
There are many other Automator actions that can be turned into speakable items, such as creating a new folder, adding a calendar event, taking a screenshot or adjusting the audio volume to a specific level.
As a heavy Dragon Dictate user, I must point out that Apple’s dictation implementation is in many ways inferior to the pricey third-party solution, but the ability to create speakable items in Automator is fairly user-friendly and much less costly than paying for Dragon Dictate.
Have you created any custom dictation commands in Yosemite?