Killer Apps 2.1 – Voice to Text on Your Computer

I wrote on my last post about how Siri on the iPhone was just the tip of the iceberg for speech-to-text software. Fine and good, but what about voice-2-text on your computer?

If you have a Mac running Lion OS X 10.7 Lion, you can see the future now. If you don’t, check this out anyway, you’ll see it soon enough.

Dragon Comes to the Utilities World

Dragon is the full-blown software product line of Nuance communications, pretty much the industry leader in voice to text. It’s powerful stuff, somewhat expensive, and getting better all the time.

But now there’s a new kid on the block: a utility version of Dragon, called Dragon Express.  Simplified, to be sure, but available instantly at a keystroke. Click – start talking.

But it’s easier to show than to talk about.  Check out the short video I did below.

Dragon Express Demo

As I said before, voice to text represents a quantum leap in the efficiency of communications, the likes of which we haven’t seen in some time.  It’s just getting started, and will be exciting to watch develop.

Killer Apps 2.0: Siri is Just the Teaser

Last summer I wrote about how speech-to-text software may be a killer app. At the time, I mentioned the rumor about what was to become Siri, the “talk to me” assistant in Apple’s then-upcoming iOS5. I also talked about Dragon Naturally Speaking, a PC-based system.

That was then: this is now. Apple itself is actually understating Siri’s capabilities – and Nuance, maker of Dragon Dictation, has made another huge advance for the you-and-me users out there. In this post, I’ll just deal with Siri: look for the Dragon post shortly.

[Note: I could spin this as being about trust, but that’d be a stretch. Sometimes I just get excited about other stuff – like cool work tools. Hope you like it too.]

Siri: Much More than Meets the Ear

You’ve seen the ads for Siri, seen friends demo it, maybe tried it yourself. And it’s impressive. You can tell Siri “Google the planet Pluto,” or “Remind me to pick up toothpaste next time I’m at the drugstore.” (I use this feature quite a bit).

But the truth is much more powerful. Those are parlor tricks, anthropomorphic gimmicks to introduce a new technology to the masses. You, Trust Matters readers, can handle The Truth. So let me tell it to you.

Forget the virtual assistant. Note instead that speech-recognition capability is now built in to the operating system. That means it’s available to you in almost every window, in almost every app on the iPhone.

What Siri Really Means ­– Now

Let me be clear about what that means. Once inside the data-entry part of an app, you can now speak, and your voice will be converted to text.

For example:

Email: speak your emails – they will convert to text

Messaging: speak your text messages – they will convert to text

Evernote: hit your Evernote app button and just start talking

Twitter: speak your tweets, stop finger-pecking them

Facebook: don’t tap your message, just say it

Google+: don’t type it, just speak it

Search: speak your Google or Bing searches – they will convert to text

Maps: speak your destinations – you get the idea.

You can now speak, instead of type, into almost any text-enterable field in any app. That means Notes, Salesforce, Quora, YouTube, NYTimes, Amazon – you name it.

  • Hate having to type on that little screen? That excuse is no longer valid.
  • Wish you had a dictation service? You do now.
  • Still taking notes by hand until you get home to enter them? Puh-leeze.

The 30,000 Foot View

This technology is not perfect; but it’s even better than the old Dragon app for the iPhone that I wrote about just six months ago, and it’s bound to get better.

As with all technologies, it will be more useful for some things than for others. I find it especially useful in dictating text messages, taking long notes of phone calls or meetings, and dictating thoughts about future articles or blog-posts.

Remember the core value proposition of voice-to-text: We can talk 5x as fast as we can write; and we can read 3x faster than we can listen. That’s a 15x systemic advantage for communications efficiency. When was the last time we saw a technology that improved communications efficiency by 1500%?

Siri is to voice-to-text as a camel’s nose in the tent is to the camel. This will be one very, very big ride.

Next post: voice to text on your Mac or PC desktop as a one-stroke utility – it’s here now.


Many Trusted Advisor programs now offer CPE credits.  Please call Tracey DelCamp for more information at 856-981-5268–or drop us a note @ [email protected].

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.