The Long, Hard Haul for MacSpeech

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MacSpeech was recently acquired by Nuance, potentially opening up new avenues for Mac-based speech recognition technology. The path that led the company and founder Andrew Taylor to Nuance, however, wasn’t an easy one, and at one point even included a brush with financial ruin.

“When I first came up with the idea of founding MacSpeech, I was on a mission — I saw speech recognition on the Macintosh slipping away into obscurity,” Mr. Taylor said in a letter to investors.

In 1996, the market for speech recognition products for the Mac looked pretty bleak. PowerSecretary was the leading big name in speech recognition at the time, but its future was in question, and it hadn’t been updated for some time. “I got together with some of the people I had been working with at Articulate Systems when we produced PowerSecretary to see what we could do about updating the software and keeping it going into the future,” he said.

The group spent the next few years raising money and working to find a speech recognition engine the could license. Some of those funds came from 865 t-shirt sales at US$99 a piece. By 2000, they landed a deal with Phillips.

While MacSpeech was working on its first product, dubbed iListen, IBM was working on its own Mac-based speech recognition product called ViaVoice. iListen hit store shelves in November, but IBM beat the company to market by a few months — and nearly drove MacSpeech out of business.

“By July 2001, we were dead when you consider things strictly from a business sense, I just refused to admit it,” Mr. Taylor said. “We did not have the revenues to support the company and all but three of us had to find jobs elsewhere.”

The company was running on borrowed money and credit cards and spiraling deeper into dept.

Things changed in 2003, however, when IBM handed off its consumer speech recognition products to ScanSoft and left the market. Without any competition, MacSpeech was able to build its customer base and pay off some debt, and by 2007 was able to license the Dragon NaturallySpeeking speech engine from Nuance.

With more borrowed money in the bank, the company set to work and shipped MacSpeech Dictate in February 2008. The company eventually released an international version of Dictate, along with specialized versions for the medical and legal markets. In 2010, MacSpeech released MacSpeech Scribe, and shortly after announced that Nuance was buying the company.

While IBM handed off its Mac speech recognition products, effectively signing their death sentence, MacSpeech plans to continue on as a part of Nuance. “Being a part of Nuance, we will bring Macintosh speech recognition to the next level,” Mr. Taylor said.

“While Nuance now owns MacSpeech, many of us will continue on with Nuance,” he added. “Our focus over the coming years will be to continue what we started, leveraging the resources of our new parent and working very closely with them, to expand upon the MacSpeech Dictate product line with new features and capabilities.”

The deal also means MacSpeech’s periodic cash flow issues should come to an end, giving the team more time to focus on improvements to its product line — and ensuring customers that MacSpeech Dictate will stick around for while.

“I am not done yet,” Mr. Taylor said. “And neither is MacSpeech.”

Comments

SirDennis

All this is very nice but MacSpeech/Nuance must improve the stability of Scribe and the response of their customer support. As a disabled/retired person, I supported MacSpeech from the beginning with iListen, then Dictate and now have tried Scribe. Scribe sometimes opens, sometimes hangs, and most often crashes with the end result the blasted email to customer support. Although I’ve had numerous more, I’ve sent three crash reports to customer support with NO response. I had to go so far as to notify my CC company to dispute the charge. Still no response from customer service even after taking back my money. Cant’ say I haven’t tried to support them but I just can’t any longer until things improve dramatically.

mikesd

Scribe is a new product. Dictate is awesome. I’ve never had it crash and the accuracy amazing.

SirDennis

Scribe is a new product. Dictate is awesome.

mikesd; the challenges I’ve had have been with Scribe, not Dictate. Dictate is a good product. However, with Scribe being so new one would hope they’d have more troubleshooting info on their website - or - available support personnel responding to questions/challenges. All this seems unusual for MacSeech but has begun since Nuance has become a player.

iJack

I gave up on speech recognition some years ago, and I definitely remember being most impressed with ViaVoice, but I could swear it was on a PC, not a Mac.  The voices were particularly good.  Pity it’s gone.

Dave

I ain’t buying nothin’ until the pricing is equivalent to the PC versions.

Scratchi

I picked up a copy of Dragon Essentials for $39 at Target. It works great, and does everything I need. It would be nice to not have to boot up into Windows, but it isn’t that big a deal. Maybe when version 2 of Dictate rolls out, I’ll take a look at it.

rkusa

I purchased iListen, and it was virtually unusable. Then when MacSpeech Dictate came out a month later, I bought an upgrade. Unfortunately it was missing a number of features that they listed on their site, features that I really needed. Now they keep bugging me to pay for another upgrade for another $55. I’ve written them twice, once since the Nuance takeover, to say that I didn’t think it was fair to have to pay for an upgrade to get features they promised, and didn’t deliver, when I spent over $160 for their product. If the new version finally brings their product up to the feature level they advertised when I bought it, they should upgrade it free. I have yet to receive an response.

SirDennis

I have yet to receive an response.

...familiar attitude. It’s unfortunate that so many think MacSpeech/Nuance and their products are so wonderful. I too had major challenges with both iListen and Dictate which I had to figure out myself. The issue with Scribe (see first comment above) was the straw which broke the camel’s back! To stay alive they’ve gotta’ improve customer service, before and after the sale.

Sanford

I was an early adapter of iListen and tried and tried, through the update process to integrate it into my workflow. But it was more of a hinderance than help. Not interested in trying again with MacSpeech.

Salaryman Ryan

I hope they bring MacSpeech to the iPad. Lots of potential there.

SirDennis

Lots of potential there.

“Lots of potential there” with the word potential, the key. They’ve got to start living up to their potential, something they have yet to do.

PSMacintosh

Decent “speech transcription” ability is the biggest potential game-changer in computing history, IMO.  And if, for some reason, it by-passes working on the Mac, then the Mac will become history itself (so don’t let that happen).

I always been a Believer in the possibilities of speech transcription…...and I can’t wait for this potential to be realized.

I sincerely hope that this Nuance buyout will allow for real time and money to be put toward improvement and development to materialize….and quicker (in my lifetime, please—this is something that I want to see/hear).

What can I do to help!?!

SirDennis

What can I do to help!?!

...great point PSMacintosh. There’s a lot of us out here able and willing to help, if only MacSpeech/Nuance would respond to us. I am a disabled/retired Apple Consultant with the need for speech transcription and an urge to help if only someone would respond to my quires. Can’t seem to get them to respond.

JayG (MacSpeech)

@SirDennis—A MacSpeech Scribe v1.0.1 update was released today. This may help. It should install automatically via the “Check for Updates” feature.

Sorry for the confusion about bug/crash reports. They go directly to engineering, but we’ve added more wording to the alert that appears in the product, to try to make this even clearer. Most importantly, the Contact Support options on the MacSpeech Support Center web site are the best way to get in direct contact with MacSpeech Technical Support for troubleshooting. There are options for web form submission, email or phone.

I hope this helps. Thanks!

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