Dragon Dictation

Even people who have a hard time explaining what an app is will tell you that it is the apps that set Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch apart from the competitors. Pundits are quick to point out that me-too smartphones makers are bringing or have brought apps to their devices. They claim that while they may not have the numbers of apps that the iTunes App Store holds what apps they do have are quality bits of code that device owners will want and find useful.

That may be, but if you have 100,000 plus applications available for a platform there are bound to be some absolute gems in the pile.

This week one such gem appeared and it was my initial opinion that this one app will do for smartphones, and for the iPhone in particular, what Apple has done to computing and the music business; that is it will fundamentally change the way we do things.

Dragon Dictation is an application that takes your spoken words and turns them into text. If you think about that for a moment you can begin to see the power of this one application. Dictate rough drafts of letters, emails, even instant messages as easily as pressing a record button. You can do this almost anywhere, at any time, for free.

Let's make this extremely clear; you say what you want, Dragon Dictation translates it to text. On your iPhone. Fast. For free!

Life, as we know it, has changed.

At least, this was my thinking 10 minutes after installing Dragon Dictation on my iPhone. I imagined the iPhone toting throngs busily chatting up their devices, sending long, elaborate, and heart felt emails and text messages to friends and loved ones with nothing more a few taps on the touch sensitive screen. Texting while driving would be only marginally more dangerous than talking while driving instead of the attention sucking, therefor extremely dangerous action it is today, thus saving lives.

I envisioned Apple providing an API so that Dragon’s superior voice recognition software could be use to navigate menus on the iPhone just as MacSpeech does for the Mac. People could, quite literally, dictate a letter and send it without ever touching the iPhone.

Still further, I dreamt of a world where keyboards no longer existed except in museums and in the dank, dark innards of an aging corporate America. I visualized an Apple tablet device that responded to voice commands a quickly and as easily and one might click a mouse button. Cool people would never be caught typing on their tablets or iPhone, they’d speak, it would listen, it would do. The world suddenly became an Eden again. War and hunger became bad memories, we cruise through space just like in Star Trek, Microsoft suddenly became concerned less for world domination and Google, and more for human advancement and cooperation. Steve Jobs’ health problems vanished and he looked as vibrant as when he came back to the company he co-founded with Woz back in 1977.

Birds sang, everyone played soccer, love, peace, and really good pizza was had by all.

Then I woke up.

The only part of my dreaming that is real is that Nuance, the makers of Dragon Dictation for iPhone, Dragon Naturally Speaking for the PC, and distributers of MacSpeech for the Mac, has a real shot at changing how we enter text on mobile devices, if Dragon Dictation is any indication, but it’s not there yet.

Watch the videos and read the literature and you’d think that Dragon Dictation is a lot simpler than it really is, and that you can now text while driving if you use Dragon Dictation to enter the text.

Not quite.

Nuance claims that Dragon Dictation can be 99% accurate. The operative phrase here is “can be”. Until the application gets use to your voice and how you say things, its accuracy is somewhat less than 99%, I’d say more like 90%, and it’s that 10% that keeps Dragon Dictation from solving all our texting ills. This is especially true for longer text input.

That 10% requires correction, and you actually have to concentrate, I believe you concentrate harder, to determine what needs correcting than you might by simply typing it out in the first place.

Another thing about Dragon Dictation is that it requires Internet access to work. Your voice input is sent to servers at Nuance where it is converted into text and sent back to you. No Internet access, no transcription. That's not a problem 99% of the time. It's that 1% that always seems to get you. If you walk into a store, for instance, where cell service sucks then anything you say to Dragon Dictation has a problem. The app will take what you've said, attempt to connect, if it can't it displays an error message and what you said is not saved for future translation, it's lost like like a whisper in the wind. You won't know what you're saying is not worth saying until after the apps tries to transcript it. Ouch!

Also, you should be aware that the app will upload the names in your contact list. Before you get paranoid understand that only the names are uploaded. Read the app description fully. I've contacted Nuance to verify this and will update this article when I get a response.

I’ve not downplaying Dragon Dictation’s awesomeness, free voice transcription as accurate as what Nuance provides rocks like a Rolling Stones concert, and it IS useful.

If you keep your initial transcriptions short and include punctuation (by actually saying, “period,” “comma,” “question mark,” or “exclamation mark” when appropriate) then accuracy gets really close to 100% and you really can get by without a lot of correction. You still need to tell the app what you want to do with what you’ve dictated, and that still requires you to look at you iPhone, so it is still not a good idea to text, even using this app, while driving.

Dragon Dictation is a must-have iPhone app that will only become more useful as it matures. For now, it’s great for sending short emails replies, writing quick notes to yourself, and sending text messages if you are NOT driving. Get it, you’ll use it.

I apologize for letting this one app take up my entire Free on iTunes article, and this isn’t meant to be a review of the application. Dragon Diction IS a free app, for now at least, and I felt the significance of it warranted the added attention. I plan on doing a more in-depth review next week, so stay tuned.

For now, however, that’s going to be a wrap. I’ll be back next week with more freebies for you.

As always, there are more freebies from the iTunes Store available below with direct links.