Gareth Huw Davies

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My verdict on the new voice-activated software for Macs

When I bought my MacBook earlier this year, I was aware of one glaring drawback. No voice-activated software,  or at least nothing to compare with the  Dragon Nuance  I had been using my PC for the past six years.

I didn’t have long to wait. At the end of September (2010) Dragon launched voice-activated software specifically for the Mac, Dragon Dictate. In the interests of full disclosure I should say that the  PR for the company was kind enough to let me try out the new product. You could say, therefore, that I’m not writing entirely without bias,  although on the other hand I am very familiar with previous versions of the Dragon product, and  I feel I am well placed to comment on the new version for the Mac, based on that experience.

The first thing to say is that this new software recognises my voice and  transcribes what I say every bit as efficiently as past versions of Dragon (I got as far as Dragon 9, and this present one, for the Mac, is the equivalent of Dragon 11 for the PC.)

I wrote all of the above, at normal dictation speed, with close to 100% accuracy.  Anybody who  uses this software will know that the speaker can actually cause the problem, by speaking in short disjointed phrases that  make recognition problems for the computer. It identifies words by their context, so if you speak nice, smooth, flowing sentences, it’s more likely to get it right – as it has with the whole of the sentence you are now reading..

So far so good. I spent about 5  minutes setting of the program, reading the few paragraphs in the start-up  procedure, so the computer would recognise my voice. What then happens is that it learns as it goes along, with you spelling again words it mis-identifies, so it can get it right next time.

So far my only problem, and it’s  not yet a criticism  because I may be missing something obvious, it’s that the helpful box of  suggested spellings doesn’t pop up instantly, as it did on the PC, giving me the option to click on the correct word.  ( It is there,  but in a form I haven’t yet got to grips with.)

On the face of it Dragon Dictate is less intuitive, seemingly preferring me to do everything by voice commands. So I’m writing this in “Dictate mode”. When I want to to spell something I say the words “spelling mode”, and  it  dutifully writes what I say.

There is nothing particularly new in this software–the familiar, standard commands such as “go to sleep” and “wake up” to turn the microphone on and off  are  all there, and it’s for me to work through these various options, and get used to them.

Another thing I haven’t yet done is use the command function, to open other programs, such as e-mails and web searching. I’ll report on that later.

What I’m absolutely sure about is that the voice-activated software works,  and has now been successfully transferred to the Mac. I know there are many people who don’t share my certainty (even for this software on the PC), among friends and people I meet professionally.

Indeed the only barrier  I can see to a much wider  take-up  is that  speaking isn’t an option in, say, a library, or the office.  (I am now going to try to whisper this sentence and see just how quietly I can speak while maintaining accuracy. Well, I did manage to get pretty quiet, like a loud whisper ,but I do seem to have lost some accuracy and, so this sentence, and this article as a whole, includes  some corrections.

More  in a later blog.

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