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Inside OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion GM: Dictation & speech

In Mountain Lion, Macs are getting system-wide speech recognition, the same "Dictation" feature Apple gave the new iPad at the beginning of the year. While it works well, it does require a network connection.

Apple's cloud-based Dictation feature, currently supported on the new iPad and as part of the broader Siri voice assistant feature of iPhone 4S, converts speech to text virtually anywhere.

It works by sending audio recordings of captured speech to Apple's servers, which respond with plain text. While it doesn't go as far as the more intelligent Siri, Dictation does intelligently cross reference the names and assigned nicknames of your contacts in order to better understand what you are saying.

Similar to Siri or Dictation on the new iPad, Dictation on Macs running OS X Mountain Lion pops up a simple mic icon when activated, which listens until you click or type the key to finish.

Just as with Siri or dictation on the new iPad, Dictation under Mountain Lion is quite fast and highly accurate, but does require a network connection to function. If you don't have a network connection, the Dictation input icon will simply shake, indicating that it is not available.

Anything you say can be used to improve your dictation

Apple appears to be exercising great caution in highlighting the privacy issues related to using Dictation. The service is turned off by default, and turning it on from System Preferences requires clicking through a notice that various types of local data, including Contacts, are sent to Apple's servers in order to recognize the speech you're trying to convert to text.

Privacy on parade

For an even longer discussion of what's involved, you can click the "About Dictation & Privacy" button, which presents the following explanation:

"When you use the keyboard dictation feature on your computer, the things you dictate will be recorded and sent to Apple to convert what you say into text. 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. All of this data is used to help the dictation feature understand you better and recognize what you say. Your User Data is not linked to other data that Apple may have from your use of other Apple services.

"Information collected by Apple will be treated in accordance with Apple's Privacy Policy, which can be found at

"You can choose to turn off the dictation feature at any time. To do so, open System Preferences, click Dictation & Speech, and then click Off in the Dictation section. If you turn off Dictation, Apple will delete your User Data, as well as your recent voice input data. Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Dictation and other Apple products and services. This voice input data may include audio files and transcripts of what you said and related diagnostic data, such as hardware and operating system specifications and performance statistics.

"You can restrict access to the Dictation feature on your computer in the Parental Controls pane of System Preferences."