The recent launch of Apple’s CarPlay system put the spotlight on its Siri voice-recognition technology once more. But while Siri can be used on an iPhone to check the weather forecast and even to dictate short emails and messages, it’s not sophisticated enough to handle more extensive dictation in an office environment. That sort of work requires specialised voice-recognition software such as Dragon Dictate for Mac, which has recently been updated to version 4.0. As well as handling dictation, Dragon Dictate also includes options for numeric data entry, e-mail organisation and even the ability to control the computer itself.
Macs, Windows & Mobiles
The standard version of Dragon Dictate for Mac costs £124.99 (inc. VAT), which, unusually for a Mac product, is slightly less expensive than its Windows counterpart, which is called Dragon Naturally Speaking and costs £149.99 (inc. VAT).
There’s also a specialist version called Dragon Dictate Medical for the Mac, priced at £649.99 (inc. VAT), that is designed for medical professionals who need to manage and transcribe medical records. However, the Legal and Enterprise editions that are available for Windows users aren’t currently available for the Mac.
In order to achieve the best results when dictating on a Mac, the Dragon software requires a high-quality noise-cancelling headphone. If you don’t have a suitable headphone already then there is also a Wireless edition, priced at £204.99 (inc. VAT), that includes a Plantronics Bluetooth headset that will allow you to stroll around the office while dictating or issuing commands to your Mac.
It’s also possible to use the Dragon Remote app for iOS and Android so that you can record your voice on a smartphone or tablet and then transcribe your recording when you get back to your office.
Making Speech Recognition Work For You
The initial set-up process is quite straightforward, as the Dragon software prompts you to read a number of short pieces of text so that it can train itself to understand your voice and accent. These tutorials also introduce a number of basic editing commands that you can use to correct errors or edit documents.
This process takes less than half an hour, and Dragon Dictate can quickly learn how to record your spoken dictation with a high degree of accuracy. You can speak naturally, and even quite quickly as long as you avoid slurring words together. And, if you need to stop dictating for a few moments, you can simply say ‘microphone off’ to tell Dragon Dictate to stop listening through your microphone.
As well as handling tasks such as dictation, previous versions of Dragon Dictate also had the ability to transcribe spoken audio recordings and convert them into text documents. Version 4.0 extends that ability by allowing you to import audio files in standard formats such as MP3, WAV and the M4A format favoured by Apple devices. That will be useful for many business users who need to transcribe recordings of speeches, or their own voice recordings that are stored on a phone or other mobile device.
It’s also possible to train Dragon Dictate to cope with more than just your own voice. The set-up process allows you to create profiles for multiple users, which store details about the user’s voice and accent, as well as the audio equipment that you use for dictation or transcribing recordings.
Dragon In Action
Our tests with Dragon Dictate for Mac produced impressive results, and a high degree of accuracy when dictating notes on our office iMac. Dragon Dictate understands punctuation commands, such as ‘comma’ and ‘full stop’, so you can construct quite complex sentences and break text into paragraphs without difficulty.
You can also use a number of simple commands – such as the rather Americanised ‘scratch that’, which deletes the last thing you said – to make simple changes as you go along. However, learning how to fine-tune your dictated words and perform more detailed editing work will take a little more time and effort.
Dragon Dictate actually works in a number of different modes, with its basic Dictation Mode simply being the starting point for your work. If the program makes a mistake, or you need to spell out a name or a word that it doesn’t recognise, then you need to switch into Spelling mode. There’s also a Numbers Mode that is designed for working with numerical data, and can automatically enter numbers such as ‘80’ when you say the word ‘eighty’.
The Command Mode allows you to issue commands to the computer itself, such as ‘launch Word’ when you want to create a new document. Dragon Dictate for Mac 4.0 even includes a plug-in extension for the Safari and Firefox browsers that allows you to dictate commands for the Google and Yahoo search engines, along with a number of commands specifically designed for working with the Gmail email system.
So while Dragon Dictate does recognise most of your dictation and spoken commands automatically, it can be a little confusing remembering when to switch from one mode to another, and remembering which commands work in each mode.
The initial tutorials barely scratch the surface here, and while Dragon Dictate was able to record our dictation very accurately once we’d finished the tutorials we soon found ourselves pouring through the 200-page PDF manual in order to locate the commands required to edit documents and to control the Mac itself.
Dragon Dictate for Mac is a sophisticated piece of voice-recognition software that is capable of high levels of accuracy when converting your spoken words into text. The transcription features will prove useful for many business users who need to record notes when they’re out of the office, and the ability to control the Mac itself with additional spoken commands will also appeal to many users. However, the different command modes and the sheer range of commands available mean that you will need to put in a few hours work in order to master the software and make full use of its undeniably impressive voice-recognition technology.