There is something undoubtedly cool about typing without using your hands. The problem is, what seems like such an elegant solution is often more trouble than it's worth. Speech recognition software has been around for years, but lengthy voice training and hit and miss accuracy have scared many of us away from trying it again. That is a shame, because today it is a whole new ballgame.
Nuance has been around since 1992 in various forms. Its technology powers Siri, the party trick behind the iPhone 4S, and it has been the dominant force in the voice recognition market virtually ever since. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 is the company's latest attempt to teach us that speaking to our computers is not a waste of time. It succeeds.
As a ".5" release you would think NaturallySpeaking is more about evolution than revolution, but happily that is not the case. Version 11.5 brings a host of new features including smartphone integration, support for social media, a raft of new commands, welcome refinements to the UI and further improvements to the accuracy and speed of the speech recognition engine. Arguably the most exciting of these is smartphone integration because it has the potential to revolutionise the way people use the software.
To coincide with 11.5 Nuance launched 'Dragon Microphone', an iOS app that uses the microphone on an iPhone or iPad to replace the need for a dedicated mic or headset. Furthermore the app connects to your computer wirelessly using a Wi-Fi network, meaning you can dictate while walking around the house or simply enjoy not being physically tethered to your computer.
Setting up the app is simple: install it, run Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 on your computer, open the app and if you're running the Apple Bonjour service (which comes with iTunes) it will automatically detect the computer and pair with it. If you're averse to Apple's beautiful walled garden, NaturallySpeaking will provide the information you need to connect manually.
Sadly Nuance has yet to release an app for other operating systems, but it does bundle a simple Andrea Electronics NC-181 headset with the software. Unlike the iOS app however, it has no easy way of switching the microphone on or off.
As for the social media this includes simple commands such as 'Post to Facebook …' and 'Post to Twitter…' which can be detected whilst in any application and saves numerous mouse clicks. Beyond simple status updates there is also useful functionality such as 'Search', which works for Twitter, Amazon, Google Maps and others, though sadly you cannot manually add other sites. Other clever and useful tricks include 'Send an email to…' (it supports web mail) and 'Open My Pictures…' with Nuance adding more through software updates all the time.