How to Properly Use Dictation in iOS 6

When iOS 5 was released a couple of years ago we were introduced to a new generation of Dictation –- that is, dictating into our device and having our spoken words transcribed into text. The hands-free aspects of this feature are obvious. Indisputably, the technology is not 100 perfect perfect. I doubt it will reach that level of perfection any time soon. Nevertheless, with the evolution of processing performance, software sophistication and Internet ubiquity, it has become "nearly" perfect.

I had given up in despair with dictation on personal computers long ago. I found I could get the job done faster and without hassles by typing. With the introduction of Siri, I noticed that she was doing a stellar job understanding my commands. Telling Siri what to write for me in a text message resulted in spot-on results. It was startling. This prompted me to explore the related speech-to-text Dictation feature. It might be just as good as Siri. I was right! For me, Dictation is not just good, it's outstanding! And, it's getting even better.

There are several things to note when learning how to use the iOS Dictation feature effectively. Let's take a closer look.

A close-up look at the Dictation Microphone icon that appears over the keyboard.

An animated microphone icon appears when Dictation is started.

Internet Required

First and foremost, in order for Dictation to work at all in iOS (and in OS X Lion, for that matter), an Internet connection is required –- either cellular data or Wi-Fi. This is because your dictated output is sent to iCloud (Apple servers) for processing into text before being sent back to your device. All in two-and-a-half blinks of an eye. This pertains to Siri commands as well because it shares the same technology as Dictation.

There are two immediate advantages with this method of transcription. First, the device is freed up from processing and storage requirements needed to support Dictation. Additionally, the service itself can be improved easily any time at server-side without software updates being pushed out to users.


iOS Dictation is enabled as long as Siri is enabled. The master switch is in SETTINGS > GENERAL > SIRI. By the way, Dictation works with many audio accessories, including wired and wireless headsets and car stereos.

The Siri preference pane and the Siri ON/OFF switch.

The Siri ON/OFF switch also controls Dictation.


When dictating, it's very important to speak clearly and at a normal pace. Make every effort to enunciate without sounding like an announcer at your local monster truck races. After a while, you'll get the hang of which words you pronounce are a bit problematic. Avoid situations where there are other voices in the background – from humans, droids, or radios. Oh, and by the way… slurred speech is a problem -– I'll just leave it at that.


iOS Dictation is available whenever the on-screen keyboard is displayed. Basically, just about anywhere you can type, you can dictate.

Two instances of using the dictation key in the Notes app, and the microphone pane accepting speech input.

It might look a bit complicated, but you'll get the hang of this soon enough!

The tell-tale sign that Dictation is enabled is the presence of a microphone key to the left of the spacebar on the on-screen keyboard available when inputting text into email, SMS messages, text processors, search bars, and more. Simply tap on the microphone key. A tone sounds, followed by the appearance of a panel displaying an animated microphone. The little animation reflects the audio level the device's microphone is picking up.

Begin your dictation. When finished –- or when pausing -– tap the Done button. A higher pitched tone sounds, and three large purple dots animate at your text insertion point. This indicates that your transmitted speech is being processed into text on Apple's servers. Finally, the text is transmitted back to your device and appears at the insertion point. You can now edit the text or continue dictating.

The animated sequence of purple dots appears when the Apple servers are processing the speech-to-text and the device is waiting for the text to be transmitted back.

These animated purple dots are partying hard while waiting for the speech-to-text to be completed.

You can't just dictate your next novel from start to finish in one swell foop. Currently, dictation can only happen in 30-second chunks. You have that amount of time to dictate before that low tone interrupts you and abruptly ends your dictation input. It is a bit jarring, but normal. The dictation is processed as usual, after which you may continue with your dictation. In time, you'll learn to manually stop then continue your dictation every couple of paragraphs or so.


Punctuation?  Simply speak the punctuation marks you want inserted as they are needed. The most commonly used punctuation marks supported include: Period, Comma, Colon, Semicolon, Open/Close Parenthesis, Left Bracket, Right Bracket, Question Mark, Exclamation Point, Ampersand, Asterisk, Hyphen (no spaces), Dash (spaces), Em Dash, Ellipsis, Open/Close Quote, Apostrophe, and of course, the pervasive Smiley :-).

For a complete listing of speakable punctuation marks, see Apple's knowledge base article: HT5449 – Mac Basics: Dictation. Note that this knowledge base article covers Dictation in OS X Mountain Lion. For the most part, however, the list is also compatible with iOS 6 Dictation.

Sentences and Paragraphs

For commands governing sentences and paragraphs, some examples include: New Line, New Paragraph, All Caps (to capitalize all the letters of the next word), and Cap (to capitalize the first letter of the next word).

Spelling-Out Punctuation

At this point, you may be wondering how to dictate a literal word normally interpreted as a punctuation mark (e.g.; "comma", "period" etc.) To date, there is no clean way to do this in iOS Dictation. Some workarounds when using Siri have been reported, but my test results were very inconsistent; no point continuing. I'm confident this will be resolved in future iOS releases.

A detail view of the software keyboard showing the special Globe and Microphone Keys.

As discussed in a previous article, the Globe Key lets you switch to your pre-configured international keyboards.

Language Support

Dictation is currently supported in nine languages including dialects. If Dictation does not recognize your requests, ensure that the keyboard is set for the language you are speaking. Since every language has its own accents and dialects, the accuracy rate will be higher for native speakers.

For detailed information on configuring your iOS device to support foreign languages, I refer you to the excellent article (if I say so myself), which recently appeared here on TMO: How to Configure Language Support on Your iOS Device.

In conclusion, Dictation can be incredibly useful under many situations. In time, you can improve your dictation accuracy success rate while, undoubtedly, the service improves. As it stands now, it works remarkably well!