REVIEW: iPhone App Now Works With Dragon NaturallySpeaking

iphone-dragonYou’ve probably heard of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the speech recognition software for PC and Mac that lets you do the talking, and it types everything you say. Now the new version 11.5 has been released, and it lets you use an iPhone as your microphone. I installed the PC version of the software and downloaded the Nuance remote mic iPhone app to see how well it works.

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking version 11 for PC (and the Mac version, called Dragon Dictate, with similar features and the same speech recognition engine) was released last September, and its claim to fame was a significant increase in its speech-to-text accuracy. The speech recognition engine in this version 11.5 is the same as in version 11. It requires little training, and can not only transcribe everything you say, but it lets you navigate your computer and bark out commands such as “search Google for rubber baby buggy bumpers,” and it immediately opens up your default browser, enters your terms in Google and searches away.

Until now, you needed to connect a microphone, preferably a wired USB headset mic, to make Dragon achieve its peak accuracy. The main innovation in this new version, which is available for PC now and will be soon for Mac, is the way it lets you use your iPhone’s stock earbuds/mic as a microphone, resulting in sound quality that’s at least as good as that of a USB mic. This is a good thing, because Bluetooth mics just don’t work well enough for speech recognition. But the iPhone app doesn’t use Bluetooth — it communicates with your computer over Wi-Fi, resulting in better mic sound quality — which ultimately means better accuracy.

Setting up the iPhone 4 to use its mic is simple. After a quick download of the free Nuance iPhone app [iTunes link] from the App Store, I launched the Dragon NaturallySpeaking PC application, and using the connectivity software Bonjour (which is included in iTunes), it automatically paired up with the NaturallySpeaking software on my PC. If you don’t wish to install Bonjour, you can enter your computer’s IP address, and I tried configuring it that way which worked equally well:

Once the software and iPhone were paired, I tapped the icon on the iPhone app and it activated the microphone. After a 5-minute guided training session that amounted to just testing of the microphone, the software was ready to go. I placed the iPhone in my pocket and I could stroll around the room, talking normally as each of my words and commands were immediately typed on the screen. It worked beautifully, with accuracy that was even better than the best wired USB microphone I’ve been using over the past few years with NaturallySpeaking.

A note about NaturallySpeaking software: It’s not for everyone. It works best for people who speak distinctly, and even though it does transcribe quite well even if you utter separate phrases with frequent pauses, it hits its highest accuracy level if you speak in complete sentences. Increasing accuracy further is the ability to train the software by introducing it to documents and emails you’ve written, and it learns your vocabulary.

While you’re training NaturallySpeaking to learn the words and phrases you use most often, the software is training you at the same time. You learn to speak in complete sentences, and even to think in paragraphs. It can even have a profound effect on your writing style, making it more conversational. I use it for everything I write. In fact, I wrote most of an 70,000 word book with Dragon, where I hardly typed a single character. I noticed after I’d used it for a few years that its accuracy is pushing 99%. It’s just uncanny.

Beyond that iPhone Microphone trick, version 11.5 is packed with small upgrades throughout the interface, including new commands that work with Facebook and Twitter. For example, you can say “tweet,” after which it opens a box on your desktop like this:

Then, whatever you say after that is typed into the box. Say “OK”, and NaturallySpeaking sends what you just uttered to your Twitter account. It works similarly for Facebook. It’s a kick, and it’s a huge productivity enhancer on all fronts.

To use this iPhone remote mic app, you must purchase the premium version (or above, and as I mentioned, the Mac version is not available yet) of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, $179.99 for the software download, or $199.99 for the boxed version. It’s worth it — I think this technology is excellent, bordering on miraculous. If you have an iPhone and can’t type as quickly as you can talk, Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 might be the best $179.99 you’ve ever spent.

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