You can dictate emails and other documents if you have OS X Mountain Lion or newer installed on your Macintosh. Many people have learned that they can use Siri on an iPhone or iPad to dictate text messages, email messages and for other purposes. Fewer people seem to have noticed that Apple added some of these voice recognition capabilities to the Mac.
To start this new dictation feature, do the following:
- Open Mail and click the New Message button.
- Fill in a recipient’s email address and a subject.
- Position your cursor in the main body of the email message.
- Go to the Edit menu and select Start Dictation
- A microphone icon will appear on screen. Dictate up to 30 seconds and then click the Done button.
- Wait a few seconds for the resultant text to appear on your screen.
- Edit the text, as needed, using your keyboard then send the email message.
The Dictation feature requires an Internet connection since your Mac records your voice, then sends the recording to its servers where the recording is run through a voice recognition program. This feature is far from perfect and far from completely reliable, but it does an impressive job, especially since it’s a free feature. The system does not have the ability to learn words, so if you use technical, legal or medical jargon that is not in the system’s vocabulary, you’ll find yourself repeatedly correcting the same mistakes.
The first time you select the Dictation feature, you’ll be asked if you want to enable Dictation. Apple also notifies you that it sends a copy of your contacts to its servers. It does this so it can better understand personal names that you might use.
With the introduction of OS X 10.9 Mavericks earlier this month, Apple provided a way to download the dictation software to your computer so that no internet connection is necessary and to allow continuous dictation. To enable this feature:
- Open System Preferences.
- Click on Dictation & Speech.
- Make sure the Dictation feature is turned on.
- Check the box to Use Enhanced Dictation. This will download the software onto your computer.
- Follow the directions above to begin dictation.
The Dictation feature works in most Mac applications including Word 2008, Word 2011, Pages, Keynote and many others.
Dictation is a handy feature and I suspect that Apple will improve it over time. In the meantime, if you need a more robust dictation features consider either Nuance’s Dragon Dictate for Mac or an online service like SpeakWrite.
Update October 2016 – Apple added their personal assistant, Siri, to the Mac when they introduced macOS Sierra (aka OS X 10.12)