I’m telling you from the start that this is not a review of Dragon Dictate 2.0 for Mac. Since I am including a disclaimer, there really should be no complaint that no review follows. :)
So, it’s LINK BAIT!
I prefer to call it a topical musing on the history of voice recognition and my hopes for the new Dragon Mac offering, and leave it at that.
I have been using voice recognition products since 2000; first on the PC and more recently on Apple computers. Back in the olden days, there was a real issue with (sub-gigahertz, single core) processor speeds. Now, my cell phone has more power and memory that my 2000 era computer; and can do a better job with voice recognition. To be fair, today’s cell phones use a client / server model for voice recognition. The iPhone or iPad does not do the voice recognition itself. The Dragon Dictate app beams the voice file to a server farm to churn out what it thinks you said and beam it back to your device. It’s pretty amazing that our networks are fast enough for this to be practical. I still remember visiting the computer lab at my brother’s grad school where you had to plug the handset of a telephone into a suction cup. That was the era of Net Trek and MUDs, and beer bashes and dancing to “Rock Lobster.” Yeah, um, don’t tell my parents.
Back to voice recognition: over the years, I have bought the new version of the voice recognition software du jour, try it for about a month and then leaving the scene for a year or two. Then I am lured back with the siren call of improved accuracy, speed and functionality, and the promise of finally being able to quickly and naturally enter text into the computer proves irresistible and I open my wallet again. And so it has been through Dragon Naturally Speaking, Nuance Naturally Speaking, MacSpeach Dictate, and now Dragon Dictate 2.0 for Mac.
Then as now venders have touted:
- Accuracy over 97%. The current version of Dragon Dictate 2.0 for Mac touts a 99% accuracy out of the box. Frankly I don’t see the improvement over the years. It’s not that voice recognition is not that good. It is just that it has been around 97% for a number of years now. No one was touting 75% accuracy back in 2000. Even then, venders advertised better than 95% accuracy and it was well in the realm of possibility to achieve it. Certainly, the amount of training required has decreased. I recall reading excerpts from Arthur C Clark’s 3001, or Dave Berry in Cyberspace, that lasted well past the point of any entertainment value. Yes, there is an enormous value to getting a high degree of accuracy right from the start, but engine accuracy has been good for a number of years now. There is still a high degree of training involved: users must stop slurring words, and the program needs to learn the names of organizations so that “Peak Vista Community Health Center” does not come out as, “peak vista Community Health Center.”
- Improved speed. From a getting-words-to-the-page perspective, I do not see a significant speed increase. For the last 10 years, I have had an accuracy slider letting me choose between accuracy and speed. And the words got to the screen about as fast then as now. I have no doubt that there are orders of magnitude more processing and comparisons against ever larger dictionaries taking place behind the scenes nowadays. However, that is just the point: despite the the activity inside the black box, I do not see that much change with what happens on the screen.
I suspect most users who have been using voice recognition for more than a few years realize that it is as fully baked as it is gonna get. As much as the advertising focuses on accuracy and speed, I think it is other features that win over users. I think Dragon (Nuance) has been smart in adding functionality to Naturally Speaking (and now Dictate 2.0 for Mac):
- Minimal to no training required. I know I was just poo-pooing this earlier when it came to accuracy, and I think the point stands. However, when it comes to how fast you can get useful with voice recognition, there have been dramatic increases. Ten years ago, multiple 20 to 60 minute training sessions were de rigueur to get into the vaunted 97% accuracy range. Now, put on the headset and talk. The program works and you train it as you go.
- Shortcuts to searches. You can now say, “Search Google for…” That is neat and a great start. My gripe is that this doesn’t go far enough. How about an option to open the search behind the current window. How about a “clip to Evernote” feature. Or better yet, how about a, “copy link and title into WordPress tab.” I know Dragon Dictate 2.0 lets you set up Apple Automator and Applescript actions. However, despite the purported ease of these scripting tools, I still have never been able to even create an action that copies all the text from one window, opens a second application and paste the text into it.
- Task based commands such as “Reply to this message.” Of course, having to say four words to deal with email is fine the first few times. However, it isn’t long before I just want to say, “next… next… reply.” Or better still, combine my favorite expletive with macro functionality. Picture if you will, “#$% no!” automagically opening a reply window and entering a stock, “Thank you for your recent settlement offer. After conferring with my client, we will not be able to accept your terms.”
Here are the areas I am hoping have improved in Dragon Dictate 2.0 for Mac from the prior MacSpeech Dictate version:
- Letting users move the cursor while dictating. After using Dragon Naturally Speaking on the PC, I found the inability to move the cursor in MacSpeech Dictate while dictating (otherwise the program would lose track of where it was) was too infuriating to bare. was usability (correction and training) application switching.
- Deleting dictation and pasting old text. Even in the 1.6 version of MacSpeech Dictate I still had a problem with Dictate deleting the last several words or lines of a sentence and replacing them with words from an earlier part of the dictation. I would be dictating a paragraph, pause for breath, and the last two lines would disappear to be replaced with a couple of words from early on in the dictation. It wouldn’t happen all the time. But, it still happened regularly enough to make the program unusable for me.
- A better “correction and training” interface. I never could fully accept the way MacSpeech Dictate handled making corrections and training words. I preferred the Naturally Speaking model of selecting a phrase and saying, “correct that.” I would then get a drop down menu of alternate possible phrases which I could accept or reject. I could re-dictate the phrase or train it. MacSpeech Dictate’s method never clicked for me. Trying to select a phrase always resulted in too many or too few words in my experience.
- Fewer windows. Another odd UI choice in MacSpeech Dictate was all the windows it opened. A control window, command choice window, correction window, not to mention the dictation pad window. You could close any of these, and you did not even have to use the dictation pad (however, the program worked best in it).
- Is it 64 bit multi-core enabled yet? At this point, I have a screaming fast i7 desktop and I would really love to light up all of those cores. However, from the Dragon Dictate 2.0 website, I do not see that feature listed.
Alright, so you lucky few with that have gotten the new Dragon Dictate 2.0 for Mac, is it better than MacSpeech Dictate? Is it more like Naturally Speaking? And has it fixed the prior version’s problems?