Speech-to-Text: My Killer Apps Part 2

I never liked podcasts.  I can read five times faster than I can listen to someone talk; thank god for transcripts.

And while I type over 100 words per minute, there’s no way I can type as fast as I can talk.

So it seems obvious: the killer app combines talking-as-input with reading-as-output.  Which is called Voice-to-Text.

Voice-to-Text: a Future Whose Time Has Come?

Voice-to-text has been around for quite a while, but it seems to me it’s making some serious inroads lately.  In part, the technology has gotten better; you used to spend more time correcting mistakes than you saved in using the tool.

But it’s also become ubiquitous.  I love voicemail-as-text, aka visual voicemail, which you can get through pretty much all phone service providers. Here’s the AT&T Blackberry version, and here’s the Vonage version.  Instead of dialing up and listening while someone drones on, I just get the transcription via email.  (Of course, some pretty funny errors arise…).

You may also have noticed voice-to-text is popping up in lots of cellphone and search engine uses.  Microsoft’s Bing offers voice search on my iPhone, and Google is building it into its Chrome Browser.  Apple is apparently baking dictation capability into its new iOS5 internal settings.  Droid users already have access to it in some form.

That Will be Then: This is Now

All that’s exciting; but what can you do right now, today?  The main company in the business is Nuance.  They have absorbed many companies over the years and incorporated them into their flagship product Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I use the product three ways: the desktop version, the desktop version on my laptop, and my smartphone.  I love them all, but the biggest story is the phone app.

Voice to Text on Computer

It’s absolutely amazing how much you can do by voice commands alone.  If you’re visually impaired, for example, this software is the key to freedom. For most of us, in fact, it’s like the Sunday New York Times—all you’d ever want, and then some.

Desktop. The trick is to restrict your use to the simple stuff you need. Learn to articulate well, learn the basic movement commands, and don’t worry about all the esoteric voice versions of all the menu offerings.

I followed the advice of many and got a really good microphone.  I’m sure it helps.  I use it to rough out blogs, or emails, or letters.  I also use it when my arms and hands are tired, or I just want to free-form some thoughts.  Interestingly, your thoughts come out differently when speaking than when typing—they are less constrained.  Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not.

Laptop. The most powerful impact of voice-to-text on the computer platform, though, is not on the desktop–it’s on my notebook (MacBook Air for me)–and all I need is my plain old apple iPhone earbuds.

Fire up the software, plug my earbuds into the laptop, and start speaking into email.

Let me say that again:

  1. Start software.
  2. Plug in iPhone earbuds.
  3. Talk into my email program
  4. Hit send.

How cool is that?

Voice-to-Text on Phone.

And yet, the poster child of voice-to-text has got to be phone apps.  Dragon has a 60-second free version available on the iPhone and iPad. Here’s what you can do.

Start the app.  Speak into the microphone (bottom of iPhone).  The app recognizes your speech, and displays it in text form.  You can make corrections, or choose to send directly (one button) to SMS, or to email (or, if you must, directly to your Twitter or Facebook account).  Or—to your clipboard, from where you can paste it into any other application.

To be clear:

  1. Press the red Talk button
  2. Talk
  3. Press the red Done button
  4. Select SMS
  5. Select your recipient (from your address book)
  6. Press the Send button–your text message is on its way.

Why would you hassle typing a message onto a tiny keyboard when you can simply say it? And it’s free!

You can thank me for this, or you can just send donations to the Charles H. Green Pizza Fund; all contributors gratefully acknowledged.

Part 1 of the My Killer Apps series discussed the notetaking and archiving application, Evernote.

What are your killer apps that make you more efficient and productive? Please share your suggestions in the comments.