Mountain Lion 101: Dictation

Mountain Lion 101 Dictation

What can I say about my love of Mountain Lion's new Dictation feature? I've wanted to be able to talk and have my words transcribed to text ever since I saw the original "Assignment: Earth" episode of Star Trek back in 1968 (image at top of post). That's actress Teri Garr talking to a typewriter, and it's transcribing her words. Now it's finally happening, and I think that's pretty cool.

I know that a lot of people are unimpressed by the dictation capabilities of Mountain Lion, the iPhone 4S, and the third-generation iPad, but I'm one of those people who is both blessed with a voice that seems to be made for Siri (the brains behind Dictation) and who has practiced dictating to my Mac and iOS devices. Unlike Rich Gaywood, who stated in his big Mountain Lion review that Dictation was having cutting through his Welsh accent, I seem to be having very few problems.

As you'd expect, I am dictating this post on my Mountain Lion-equipped MacBook Air. By default, Dictation is turned on in Mountain Lion. To shut it off permanently or change other settings, use the new Dictation & Speech pref in System Preferences. With the pref it's possible to select the microphone used by Dictation, set the key(s) to press to activate Dictation (by default, you press the fn key on your keyboard twice), or learn more about Dictation and privacy.

That last feature comes courtesy of a button on the bottom of the preference pane. Click it, and you're basically told that anything you dictate is recorded and sent to Apple to convert into text. That's right; it won't work without a live Internet connection. The Apple privacy statement also says that your computer will also send Apple "other information, such as your first name and nickname; and the names, nicknames, and relationship with you (for example, "my dad") of your address book contacts."

Enough about the preferences panel. Let's talk about how accurate dictation really is. If I stop and think about what I'm trying to say to my Mac, and then speak clearly and a little bit slowly, then the accuracy rate is almost 100 percent. On the other hand, if I just start talking and stumble over what I'm saying, my accuracy suffers.

Don't expect to be able to talk to your Mac for an hour and have a perfectly-typed term paper ready to submit at the end. Dictation works in 30-second chunks; any more than that and it will chime to let you know that it's done. I've found that the response time for Dictation is very fast compared to that on the iPhone 4S and third-generation iPad.

In our book, "Talking to Siri", Erica Sadun and I discuss ways of improving accuracy of Siri dictation. We also talk about how to add caps and punctuation to your dictation, but you'll find that some of those commands don't work quite the same in Mountain Lion.

For example, it was previously possible to say "My cat is named cap emerald" to have Siri type out "My cat is named Emerald." You no longer need to say "cap" to get Dictation to capitalize the proper name. However, none of the capitalization commands work any more. Likewise, spacing commands -- "space" and "no space" -- that used to add or eliminate spaces between words no longer work. All punctuation commands seem to be enabled from the testing I've been able to do.

Dictation is one of those Mountain Lion features that you're either going to love or hate -- I'm not sure there's much of an in-between. Personally, I find it to be extremely useful, especially in combination with Messages. There's nothing more satisfying than tapping the function key twice, dictating a quick response to my wife, and then getting back to work.

I'd suggest to anyone who is upgrading to Mountain Lion to at least give Dictation a try. You might find out that it works better than you think.