Mountain Lion is about to debut one of my favorite features ever: Dictation. With built-in support for speech-to-text, OS X Mountain Lion allows you to talk instead of type in nearly every app on the system.
You'll be able to access dictation using a simple keyboard shortcut, a double click on the Function (fn) key. And if your keyboard doesn't have one available, or if you prefer another choice, System Preferences allows you to customize that shortcut.
Dictation will be integrated with many system features, including Contacts, so it will more accurately recognize your colleagues' names. You don't have to worry that "Victor Agreda" will transform into "Vic tore a gray dar". (Although, truth be told, I'm still struggling to make my iPhone 4S realize that "call Mike Rose's phone" isn't "call microphone", and it uses the same speech-and-contacts integration as Mountain Lion.)
If you're using Mountain Lion on a Mac without a built-in microphone (like my 2009 Mac mini), you'll need to hook up one in order to use the dictation features. You can use headsets as well as stand-alone mics.
Mountain Lion dictation follows the same rules as Siri. You can dictate punctuation and capitalization as you talk. For example, you can say "hello world exclamation point" and Mountain Lion will type "Hello world!" Other handy meta-items include new line, period, comma, and question mark.
Dictation is smart. Say, "Twenty two dollars and 32 cents" and it's automatically transformed into "$22.32." It handles dates, too. Say, "Thursday July Fourth Seventeen Seventy Six at Three P M" and it types "Thursday, July 4, 1776 at 3 PM." You can even say "smiley" and "frowny face" to add emoticons, namely, :-) and :-(, which may or may not please you as the hyphen noses are not exactly standard.
Once you start working with dictation, you'll find that it can solve a problem you didn't know you had. Unfortunately, Mountain Lion offers dictation and only dictation. You can't ask a virtual voice assistant to shoot off an email or send a message ... at least not yet!
Dictation supports English (U.S., UK, and Australia), French, German, and Japanese.
For many new Mac owners, your move to Mountain Lion represents your first major upgrade. To help users prepare to make the jump, Steve Sande and Erica Sadun wrote Getting Ready for Mountain Lion, an Amazon/iBooks eBook. It's aimed at first-time upgraders and people looking for hints and tips about smoothing the transition. We're sharing some of our tips on TUAW in a series of posts about the 10.8 upgrade. OS X Mountain Lion will be offered for sale in July 2012 for $19.99.