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I’ve always been sceptical of voice-recognition software. When I’ve tried asking Siri to look something up for me on my iPhone, she always starts phoning the most remote acquaintance in my contacts list, and my experiments with other built-in speech-to-text software have generally gone badly.
But when I injured my hands a few months ago and had trouble typing, I had an incentive to download the latest version of Dragon’s dictation software, which is considered state-of-the-art. I made time to study the user-friendly tutorials and start transcribing interviews, dictating emails and even navigating between applications using my voice.
The results weren’t perfect. The software struggles, as expected, with proper nouns, technical jargon and slang. Almost every sentence I dictated had to be adjusted. But as I learnt the speech commands that allowed me to make adjustments and figured out the right balance between speaking at a normal speed, yet enunciating precisely, I found I was actually working faster using Dragon than I would usually do with full use of both hands.
Inevitably, I’m so used to composing emails and documents by typing that when I recovered from the injury, I switched back from the voice-recognition software and rarely use Dragon now. But it is only a matter of time before we all start adjusting to the idea of talking to our computers.
Gadgets such as Google Glass and the Apple Watch indicate that the future of mobile devices is screenless and wearable. It makes sense to start experimenting with voice-recognition software. Experts say that Dragon, which has been launching products in the field for 18 years, is the best of the bunch.
Dragon has separate packages for PCs and Macs – I was using Dragon for Mac 5.0 – and it has just launched Dragon Anywhere, for iPhones and iPads. While that app is only available in the US and Canada, there are plans to roll it out internationally.
Anyone with visual impairment, repetitive strain injury or other accessibility challenges should check out Dragon Dictate for Mac, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking for PCs. And those that want to stay ahead of the pack should also give it a try.
q&a dictate your own terms
Jessica Holland expands on the usefulness of Dragon dictation software:
What are the new features on Dragon for Mac 5.0?
While previous versions of Dragon have required a specific external microphone, the latest update works fine with the mic that’s built into the computer you’re using, which is handy. Another useful modification is that users no longer have to transcribe inside a Dragon text box. The software now operates as a floating window that interacts with whichever programme you are using, whether it’s dictating a search term in a Google window, writing an email or working on a document.
How will Dragon deal with my specific accent?
Before you start using Dragon, the program asks you to read a set of instructions out loud. This way, you teach it how you pronounce certain words at the same time as learning how the software works. There’s also a vocabulary training feature, where you can read documents that you’ve written to teach the programme new words. In this way, it can learn your specific vocabulary and become increasingly fast and accurate.
How hard is it to to use?
You will need a measure of patience when you first try it out, but the interface is intuitive and it will only take five or 10 minutes to get started. There will be plenty more specific commands that you can learn as you go along, but this is a simple process and doesn’t require time away from the task at hand.
How do I order the software and how much is it?
Go to Nuance.com. There are a few different bundles for students and teachers, upgrades from previous versions, and wireless headsets, but the standard package is $200.
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