Saturday, December 12, 2009

First Impressions: MacSpeech Dictate

I got an early Christmas present this year, a copy of MacSpeech Dictate. I've been using the speech recognition provided by Apple with the Macintosh for years. Since Snow Leopard came out the speech recognition engine in MacOS X has been less than functional. I had wanted a copy of MacSpeech Dictate for quite some time. One of the main reasons that I thought it would be interesting to play with is that besides being able to dictate articles (like this one), I knew that the program was extensible using AppleScript.

I've already ported over two of my scripts to MacSpeech and they seem to be working fine. So far my only disappointment is that MacSpeech doesn't allow interaction verbally --- in other words the program will not query you beyond performing the action that this script allows. Using the built-in speech recognition provided by Apple, I was able to build scripts I could interact with by providing a list of possible phrases that I could give in response to particular question. However the ability to dictate far outweighs that lack of functionality.

Since the quality of speech recognition is entirely dependent on the input source MacSpeech smartly includes a noise canceling microphone with the software. (Star Trek fans will appreciate this -- as I was dictating this I flashed on the picture of Gary Seven dictating to his typewriter!) Personally I'm not a big fan of headset microphones especially those that cover only one ear since they're not any good to listen to music with so your single headphone is basically useless. I tried using the microphone built into my WebCam, but in calibrating the microphone MacSpeech had to wind up upping the gain all way to maximum and even then I still had to talk very loud to be understood. I may search for a desktop microphone of sufficient quality so that I don't have to wear the headset.

Since installing the software my Bluetooth keyboard sits mostly unused. A true testament to how usable MacSpeech is. The amount of training I had to do with the software was very short, in fact it stopped me before I was finished. The quality level of the resulting text is truly amazing. As I get more comfortable with the system, I am producing less and less mistakes that need to be corrected.

So far I'm very impressed. And very happy with the software. I would definitely recommend it to someone who's in the market for dictation software --- especially since I think it's the only one available for the Macintosh!


John Juliano (Twitter @johnjuliano) said...

My experience has not been very good. While the word recognition seems pretty good, the software crashes every couple of hours and I end up with spurious characters after punctuation.

The software seems very lazy in terms of knowing where it is within a document, and continually places alternative utterances incorrectly.

MacSpeech is so maddeningly close to being very good, that I sit on the razor's edge between demanding my money back and spending yet another day trying to be more productive with it than without it.

Kevin said...

I'm sorry that's been your experience. But I also don't have problems with the iPhone 3GS's voice control, and I've heard that others hate it. I must just have "one of those voices" that computers like.