MacSpeech Dictate

| In-Depth Review

In my life before the Mac I had a career in which I worked with people with intellectual disabilities. Back then it was called mental retardation. I think I like intellectual disabilities better. I spent a good part of that career in management positions and while I greatly enjoyed changing environments for the betterment of many, there is nothing quite like affecting the life of an individual because invariably it also changes yours.

I met Bobby early in my career. He was in his early 40's. He lived in an institution. In addition to his intellectual disabilities he had cerebral palsy. He could not walk, had poor motor control of his arms, and he could not speak. My job was to help him improve his communication skills.

Nobody told me I couldn't, so I got him an old typewriter and taught him to type by using a big round peg to strike the keys. When he started typing we discovered he could type in complete sentences.

For the first time in his life he could really communicate. Most of us take the ability to communicate for granted. From that point on I never did so again.

So last January at Macworld when I was introduced to MacSpeech Dictate I was interested in it on more than one level and I really wanted to try it out. I could see it as a tool for a busy professional who could use it in a work environment, such as my friend the very busy Rabbi who uses an application similar to MacSpeech Dictate to create all of his sermons. The application that my friend uses is somewhat cumbersome to use and he has to adapt his own style to the quirks of the application. I have tried that application and I agree with his assessment. Nevertheless, he has told me that for him, it is better than writing everything by hand, or typing it.

But while I am assessing MacSpeech Dictate from the point of view of the average Mac user, in the back of my mind, always, always, is the question "Will this help someone with a disability?" Not someone with Bobby's limitations, of course, but other folks who could get more benefit from a computer if they could tell their computer what to do.

I figure there are three classes of potential users for MacSpeech Dictate -- the first group (someone who likes to dictate their work and wants to make their life easier); the second group (someone with a disability who has the ability to dictate and by so doing can become more independent); and the third group (someone who fits into both group one and group two).

This is software you have to patiently learn how to use. This is software you have to train before you can use it. You have to have an Intel-based Mac before you can use it. It retails for U.S. $200. Is it worth it? The answer is "Oh yeah, it is."

Based on my experience, these are the things that I think you want to consider as you think about buying it.

It comes with a high quality, noise canceling, headset that includes earphones with an attached microphone that plugs right into a USB port on your Mac. Once you set the System Preferences for the headset you are ready to go.

MacSpeech Dictate will actually analyze existing documents on your computer to determine your writing style if you instruct it to do so. This improves accuracy because the application learns how you put words together.

The software creates a profile of you that helps it always know what you need and how you work. If others use the software on your computer it will create profiles for them as well.

There are instructional videos that you can access from the developers Web site. They are an excellent aid while you are learning to use the software.

The application works with a number of Mac-compatible applications like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop. It also works with Apple's regular applications like iChat, Mail, iPhoto, and Keynote, among others. In most cases it will actually open the application when instructed to do so.

Particularly useful when you are beginning, the application will give you a work window and it is best to dictate your work into that window and then cut and paste it into your document when you are happy with it.

The built in spelling mode lets you spell words and names, and you can use the International Radio Alphabet.

I have only touched on a few of the highlights. I will just point out two last things: I dictated this column. The only word the software had a problem with was "Intel." I don't know why. Probably my accent was particularly strong when I was dictating. And, I have recommended to my friend the Rabbi that he consider trading up from his current software to MacSpeech Dictate.

The Bottom Line

I recommend this application. The quality of the finished product is superior to any like product I have seen, and it offers some advanced features not previously found in speech recognition software. The tutorials are excellent and shorten the learning curve for the average user. The interface with standard Apple applications increases its overall usability and helps justify the cost, as does the inclusion of the noise canceling headset.

Product: MacSpeech Dictate

Company: MacSpeech

List Price: 199

Amazon.com Price: 162.99

Pros:

Superior dictating software with good tutorials to help all level of users become proficient. Inclusion of a noise canceling headset assures that the user has the appropriate equipment to get started.

Cons:

A big investment Plus a user must have a Mac with an intel processor and have internet access to register the software on line before it can be activated. There may be an extensive learning curve, depending on the individual skills of the user.

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Comments

rpaege

I agree with the cons about the program, and I’ll add one of my own.  I found the developers very unresponsive.  In fact, they never even bothered to reply to my email suggesting an improvement that would make it easier to set up key commands for individual applications, a process that I found clunky, awkward and unnecessarily complicated.  Perhaps that has changed since I used it a few years ago, but I’m pretty doubtful.

I also found that everything cost extra. Even the tutorials if I remember correctly (perhaps not), but certainly most of the other addons were an additional charge.

I tried to find a use for this program, but it just wasn’t adequate for what I wanted to use it for, and the developers weren’t interested in expanding the functionality.

Also, the headset was not very good.  It was the one ear only type, and I really wanted a double ear stereo set.  I’m not sure what they have now though.

Dave Ottalini

I need an application to transcribe taped interviews…can this program do that?

Thanks!

Dave

Alan Belnap

The profile is only good on the logon account you set it up on.
= You want to switch to another account and use MacSpeech there, you gotta go through the entire crap of install again.  This is VERY BAD development.  An app should only need to install/load resources ONE time, not many times / each time you go to use it on another account.  Requires you to have the CD handy at all times.  The developer needs to make it it simple to use YOUR voice profile on ANY account, including copying it to another system so you don’t have to repeatedly repeatedly repeatedly repeatedly repeatedly repeatedly reinstall/re-instruct it.

= The software does not work for “everybody”, as noted regarding ‘intellectual disabilities’ persons.  What is failed to note in this review is that the software does not work for children up to age 14-ish.  The software is expecting a lower-frequency voice and more volumous voice as such an adult male or female has.

BTW: I know these things cuz I was a tester for the last 2 rounds of product releases for this software.

gopher

Dave,
Most likely it would need the person being interviewed to speak into the program and train it with their voice pattern.

bluevoter

I would very much like to love this program.  I’ve stuck with MacSpeech since the earliest days of iListen, their previous product.  When that program hit the limit in terms of quality, they abandoned it, licensed the Dragon Naturally Speaking engine from Nuance, and created MacSpeech Dictate.  Even though it is based on the same core speech recognition engine, it is well behind the Windoze product in features and functionality, even at the same price.  The problem, at least in part, seems to be that they are a tiny company, understaffed in almost every area, which means lengthy delays between releases among other things.  That said, Dictate is clearly better than its predecessor (iListen) and works reasonably well, but falls well short of the 5-star category for me.

deJennero

This article is woefully untrue!  Most users hate it.  Simply go to the following webpage and see how exasperated users are with MacSpeech Dictate.  They desperately need a major upgrade (I’m waiting for it, and will buy it when it becomes tolerable to use, but as is, it’s years behind the PC version of Dragon Naturally Speaking).  As is, it lacks basic editing and a boatload of features offered by Dragon.  Read the forums below to see the reality before buying:

http://www.macspeech.com/extensions/forums/forum.php?id=9

Peter

It’s fine for basic speech to text input, but is severely lacking compared to Windows Dragon. Severely. As somebody pointed out too, the developers are completely unresponsive to any kind of communication. I’ve longed for a good speech recogniton program for mac for many years and this is the best there has been, but that doesn’t say much given that the previous ilisten was, IMO,l unusable and had very poor accuracy.

Dave

The other problem is that it is twice as expensive as the Dragon program on the PC. Why we can’t have an $80 speech recognition program for our Macs is beyond me.

Dave

cybercat

I agree with a lot of what has been said here. The product itself is actually extremely good, especially with the updates to 1.2 .1 which has added some major improvements and enhancements, and eradicated most—but not all— of the bugs and niggling irritations (they are now advertising 1.3 is available, but I am unable to download the update).

However, the customer service - especially at first - was dreadful, although it has now been dramatically improved with downloadable PDF manual, instructional videos, knowledgebase and a support forum.

Although this product is actually usable “straight out of the box”,  it is necessary to spend some time reading the manual & understanding how it all works, and using the new features to train it to continually improve its recognition of your individual voice. There is actually more of a learning curve to this than MacSpeech would have you believe, but at least you—and the software—can learn “on the job”. 

I found that out of the box I was getting around 92% to 95% accuracy, but by a bit of vocabulary training by getting it to analyse typical documents I had written, and constantly using the recognition window to choose the correct phrase (which also trains the software further) rather than manually editing, this has improved to 97% to 99%.

I have used 1.2.1 to dictate this. The control and editing capabilities in 1.2 .1 are a quantum leap forwards over the previous version. I’m dying to see the new improvements and features in 1.3.

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