Of Dragon, MacSpeech, and Dictation

by Bakari Chavanu Feb 24, 2010

Over a year ago, I wrote a review of the speech recognition program, MacSpeech. The review was fairly favorable, and I’ve used the program off and on, but not nearly as much as I would like to. I’ll explain why in a minute.

Whatever criticism one may have of MacSpeech, it has consistently grown and expanded, now in it’s 1.5 version. It’s heavily marketed on websites and the company and product earned the coveted Macworld Best of Show Award in 2008. However, almost anytime you read a critical review of the program it’s usually compared to the similar Window’s program, Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The Window’s program has consistently gained high marks. The prolific writer and New York Times columnist, David Pogue has said many times how he uses the program to get most of his writing done.

I’ve never tried the Window’s version of Dragon, but I have downloaded and successfully used the FREE! iPhone/iPod touch versions of the program, Dragon and Dragon Search. And I have to say that both are awesome. I use Dragon to quickly dictate/write short emails and instant messages on my iPhone. It works faster than trying to type out text. And if you really must type something on your iPhone while driving, Dragon is the safest option. 

Dragon Search works similar to Google’s Voice search but it has expanded options for searching. When you launch it, you simply speak your word search and Dragon provides results on Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, YouTube, and the iTunes Store. The program includes the option for “Detect End-of-speech” which means after you speak your search will automatically begin without you having to tap the words. Done.  The mobile program is for English speakers only, but since Nuance provides its desktop version for different languages, I’m sure there will be in the near future updates to the mobile apps for other languages.

Nuance Acquires MacSpeech
Well, the good news announced this week is that Nuance, the makers of Dragon, has acquired MacSpeech. The latter program uses "Dragon’s speech recognition engine at its core,” but for some reason people who have used both programs have consistently said that Dragon is the superior program. If the iPhone version of Dragon mirrors the accuracy of the desktop version, then I would have to say that the comparison is warranted.

So it will be interesting to see what this acquisition will mean for the MacSpeech program. Will it be updated, overhauled, or totally replaced by Dragon? Nuance in its press release said that with the popularity of the forthcoming iPad and the proliferation of App Store apps, “It’s a perfect time for us to open Dragon’s doors to the Mac community!”

Speech recognition really is the next surge in computing, in my view. Download the Dragon apps and play with them for a few minutes and you’ll quickly see why speech recognition and navigation commands should be an integral part of the operating system for the Mac and Apple‘s leading portable devices. Apple has moved into the direction already, but with Nuance becoming part of the community, perhaps speech recognition and voice computer navigation will become as easy or easier than typing. MacSpeech doesn’t has the same or better command/controls for the Mac operating system, so I‘m sure that Nuance will be bring that technology to the program.

Bugs vs. Dictation
If you visit the MacSpeech support forums or read the reviews of the program on Amazon.com, you will notice that most of feedback and comments are critical of the program, while others have great success using it. In my experience, I’ve found MacSpeech to be buggy. I would love to write entire articles using the program, but it’s hard to edit writing using voice recognition and commands. You can become very frustrated when the program doesn’t recognize specific words, even after you attempt to train it. And there have been times when it wiped out entire paragraphs before I was able to save the document.

On the other hand, I‘ve learned that part of the problem is my lack of dictation skills. With voice recognition and dictation, you have to speak clearly and precisely in order for the program to work effectively.

Voice recognition can be extremely fast for typing and making commands on your computer. An entire dictated sentence can be typed in about a second. No problem. But you’ll find that your ability to process what you want to say may take time. Typing with your hands provides the opportunity to think as you write. With voice dictation, you need to think before you talk, not while you talk.

 There’s also other versions of MacSpeech designed for medical, legal, and international language users. So if you’re thinking about dropping $150-$200 go ahead, as long as you don't expect perfection.


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