Talking out loud about voice dictation

As devout readers of this blog know, I use voice dictation for a lot of my interaction with my computer. This is primarily due to my repetitive strain — I really have no other option.

However, as I’ve been utilizing voice dictation software — primarily Dragon NaturallySpeaking combined with a third-party add-on software called Vocola — I’ve been contemplating whether voice dictation could be a plus for people without any hand issues. And I’m seeing ways that it can.

There’s really two things you can do with voice dictation: dictate text, and control your applications. Is voice dictation a faster way to produce text than typing? Maybe… probably, though I still find it frustrating when it mishears what should be obvious words. But I think we can count it as a win.

Is voice dictation superior to the mouse and keyboard in terms of controlling applications? In the big picture, I think the answer is no. However, there are certain areas where I think voice dictation wins. For example, if I have a file I’m constantly opening and closing — say, an acidlogic article I’m working on — I can create a speech macro along the lines of “open current acidlogic article” which will pop open the file. This really is preferable to going into My Recent Documents or somesuch, finding the file and clicking on it. I can also set up similar functionality for visiting websites — “launch” is a command that will open what is undoubtably the best pop-culture humor website on the Internet.

I also find these commands useful to pop open properties windows in certain applications. I’ve used Photoshop for years, and often pop open a little window which tells me the size of the current image I’m working on. To do this you have to navigate to some menu, and find the correct option. It’s much nicer to just say “image size” and have that property window appear.

I do think these techniques save time, but I think the greater advantage is a kind of streamlining of your mental processes. In the Photoshop example, I might be thinking about the overall manipulation I want to do of an image, and it’s kind of distracting than have to focus — however briefly — on the menu navigation needed to open the Image Size window. If all I have to do is say the command, it lets me keep my train of thought where it belongs.

However, voice dictation control of applications is far from complete — what I’ve just described are the few places it works well. There are plenty of frustrations.

Nonetheless, I think we’re clearly headed for a world where the voice is a main point of interaction with the computer. I suspect Apple agrees with me, because they recently entered into a big-time partnership with Nuance Communications, the guys who make NaturallySpeaking.

You heard it here first.

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