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ATPM 16.09
September 2010






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by Mark Tennent,

A Fine Pair of Dragons

Dragon Dictation is 100% accurate nearly every time and far better than the iPhone’s built-in speech recognition. Its sibling, Dragon Search, uses the power of Dragon Dictate to search Google (or Yahoo), YouTube, Twitter, iTunes, and Wikipedia. But let me digress a moment.

Back in the last century, Apple paid me to evangelise at a local PC World. The Mac mini had just come out, and I spent most of my time convincing people that what they thought was a power supply (like on the PCs) was actually the computer.

One punter, who worked on an oil rig, had me demonstrate the Mac mini, PowerBook, and iMac, and promptly ordered two of each. I wasn’t there to sell, and nor apparently were PC World because they had none in stock according to their salesperson.

Alongside my Mac aisle was a guy from IBM who was demonstrating ViaVoice, which he made look easy as he dictated in his South African accent. Everything he said appeared on screen. He gave me a copy, and for the next month I spent hours training the software and trying to use it.

It was a complete flop as far as I was concerned until I tried to speak with an “accent.” My “Australian” seemed to be the best, rising inflexions and pronunciations copied off Neighbours went straight into ViaVoice, which understood them immediately.

With Dragon Dictation, I expected the worst so my first sentence was: “I bet you are a pile of crud and won’t understand anything I say.”

What I got was: “I bet you are a pile of crowd and won’t understand a word I say.” The rough language went but the apostrophe was in.

I continued: “Blimey you’re actually going to be useful I don’t know whether I’ll ever do any, oh bollox what am I going to dictate?”

The result: “Blimey you’re actually going to be useful I don’t know whether I’ll ever do any of blocks what am I going to dictate.”

This is pretty darned good for zero training, no instructions, and a free app that will send the result to any of the text applications on an iPhone, or save to clipboard memory ready to paste where you want. Making changes and deleting is easy, too. Click on a word such as “block” and suggestions appear, top of which is “bollocks.” Sweep from top to bottom to select and delete text.

From my experience with ViaVoice, I knew a little about dictating. My first piece of real testing was reading aloud and trying to get correct punctuation. Dragon Dictate automatically builds an understanding of the user’s voice, which means it is important to correct mistakes.

Dragon Dictate is limited to 60 seconds of audio every time the recording button is pressed. This is a long time to dictate without a break, and successive 60-second spells can be added to each other. The support site explains it is to ensure accuracy. Plus, the iPhone 3GS’s chip is a little slow for processing long batches of recording.

My experiment with a long piece of text is that it is easier to dictate than entering words using the iPhone’s “keyboard” and more accurate, too. Punctuation is inserted by saying the punctuation mark needed such as: “ampersand,” “comma,” “new paragraph,” “single quote,” “open bracket.”

Text can be adjusted if necessary via the “keyboard” or further dictation and then inserted into an e-mail or text message.

Dragon Search and Dragon Dictate worked almost flawlessly for me and have migrated to the home screen of my phone where they will be in daily use.

I would be really impressed if they could interpret speech when an insertion point is reached, such as clicking into the URL box in Safari and speaking the Web address. Isn’t that what multitasking is supposed to bring?

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Reader Comments (1)

Don Seher · September 2, 2010 - 13:52 EST #1
When creating instructions or help files, I set up my iPad in Portrait mode, open Dictation, tap the screen, speak as I go through steps, tap the screen when I'm done, and in seconds I have the instructions typed out. To tidy it up, I copy it to a Word file in DocsToGo, or email it to myself and, on my Mac, copy the email to a new Word document. Just for grins, I made a Voice Memo on my iPhone, and later held it near the mic of the iPad and used Dictation to transcribe it! Faster than my typing!!

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