MacSpeech's Dictate: high quality voice recognition for the Mac

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MacSpeech at this week's Macworld Expo unveiled Dictate, its new speech recognition and voice command software currently in beta and slated for release mid February. The new product replaces and improves upon the existing iListen.

Dictate is now based upon the highly accurate speech recognition engine developed by Naturally Speaking; iListen was based upon technology licensed from Philips. MacSpeech supplies the user interface and rich integration with AppleScript and other Mac technologies.

A $29 crossgrade is available for any registered iListen customers who have purchased or obtain a copy of iListen in 2008. Any registered iLife customer from 2007 and earlier can pre-order a crossgrade for $79.

Speech Recognition Accuracy

Representatives demonstrated the accuracy and intelligence of the new system by dictating live into the system. After being switched on, the system allows the user to both dictate and issue voice commands. It determines which you are doing by analyzing the context of words. Dictate only requires a 5 minute profile creation session, which profiles the mic used and then analyzes the speaker's speech patterns and diction. In addition, the user can supply text that the software will analyze for unfamiliar words, and then speak those words to expand the system's dictionary.

The software's advanced recognition engine allows the software to accurately present natural speech dictation, correctly interpreting text such as "the patient was in a coma, comma" or "the end of the medieval period period." It also correctly formatted phone numbers and currency amounts, complete with a dollar sign, a thousands comma, and a decimal point, even when spoken in different ways, such as "five thousand dollars and twenty cents."

Dictate can enter text into any application that supports text entry from the keyboard, even including Windows apps running in a virtual environment such as Parallels or Fusion. To take a quick dictation without opening another application, Dictate also provides a simple text entry window of its own.

The software will support a variety of English language families, including American English, UK English, and Australian, Indian, and SE Asian variants. MacSpeech also has immediate plans to release German, Italian, Spanish, and French versions, and can match developments in new speech engine models released by Naturally Speaking.

Voice Control

In addition to entering text, Dictate can also be used to control the desktop interface. Reps demonstrated the software being used to launch applications, edit entered text, even open Safari bookmarks.

When a new application is installed, Dictate rapidly scans it to set up a table of commands, allowing the user to launch it by name and then activate any of its menu commands by voice. The voice command features can also be extended using AppleScript. Among other features, Dictate can also be used to launch Spotlight and rapidly search the system.

Dictation Hardware

Dictate ships with a microphone, but can be used with any standard mic. Company reps recommended against using a Bluetooth mic because that protocol limits the bandwidth of sound input to 8 KHz, reducing the overall accuracy of dictation. Other wireless microphones, such as professional quality RF equipment, can be used at full quality.