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OS X Mountain Lion Dictation Review: It’s Time to Talk to your Mac



The latest version of Apple’s OS X operating system brings a nifty feature over from iOS. Built in dictation should get more Mac users talking rather than typing. The Dictation feature is similar to the Nuance dictation applications on Windows PC’s and Macs.

Those looking to dictate term papers, novels or long documents will probably want to stay with tools like DragonDictate, simply because OS X’s built in dictation is pretty basic.

Dictation on Mac

Enable Dictation on OS X Mountain Lion to talk to your Mac.

To turn on dictation in OS X Mountain Lion, go to System Preferences -> Dictation & Speech -> Turn Dictation On.

What I Like About Mountain Lion Dictation

Dictation OS X Mountain Lion

Dictate to any text field.

To access dictation you simply tap the function key twice. Then all you have to do is speak. Unlike more complex applications like Dragon dictate, there is no setup required and Apple can instantly recognize your voice. This is a huge advantage compared to Dragon dictate, where the process of setting up can be long and frustrating.

Mountain Lion dictation does a pretty decent job of recognizing people’s voices. It can differentiate between U.S, UK and Australian English speakers. It can also automatically detect  French, German and Japanese.

Right out of the box, Apple dictation will recognize your contacts names. This is very useful since you might not always use dictation for writing long documents. For example if you’re writing an email all you have to do to find the contact is speak. All you have to do is speak your friend or family member’s name, and dictate a quick note. You can use this for things like typing friends in Facebook, as well.

One of the things I use dictation for is just to get ink on the page. One of the biggest frustrations about starting a document but you don’t want to write, such as a homework assignment, is just getting started. A lot of people can talk about something for several minutes, but have trouble writing even a couple hundred words on the subject. I find it very useful to just talk to my computer like it isn’t an imaginary friend rather than writing formal outlines or dealing with writers’ block.

Apples new dictation tool will recognize opportunities to abbreviate items such as gigabytes, megabytes, millilitres, etc. So that if you speak “five gigabytes” it will turn it into the numeral and an abbreviation (5GB) rather than spelling it out.

What I Don’t Like About Mountain Lion Dictation

function key is your new best friend with dictation for OS XThe double press of the function key is an easy way to start dictation, but using dictation for anything longer than a Facebook status update requires pressing the function key over and over again to activate.

Another issue is the 30 second limit on dictation, which limits how long you can talk without pausing to press the function key again.

Unlike Dragon Dictate and Android Dictation, there is no way to see what you’re typing as you speak it.

Unfortunately, the speech to text conversion takes place on Apple’s remote servers rather than your Mac. This causes a few problems. The first is that you need your Mac needs to be connected to the Internet otherwise dictation simply does not work. DragonDictate does not require an Internet connection to work and no matter does Google’s latest mobile operating system, Android 4.1 jellybean. It would be nice for Apple to have an off-line dictation tool like the competition. Of course it would take a lot more resources to make the conversions locally.

There are no auto correction options in Dictate for OS X Mountain Lion. It takes a best guess what you said and writes it without offering corrections or the squiggly red line that you’re used to on iOS.

Dictation is not perfect. For example, the tool had a difficult time understanding the difference between “30 seconds” and “32nd.”

Is OS X Mountain Lion Dictation Worth Using?

OSX DictationIt is important to enunciate and speak as much like a news caster as possible. If you speak words like umm or stutter a lot you’re not going to have a good time with dictation. As with all dictation tools Apple’s has issues with people that have strong accents or don’t use proper grammar. It will not fix grammatical errors it just dictates whatever you speak so don’t expect any miracles.

This tool is good for drafting documents, emails or articles, which is exactly what I’m doing right now, but if you want to rely on dictation for serious work you’re going to want to plunk down the cash for Dragon Dictate.



  1. stinkynicky

    07/29/2012 at 9:10 am

  2. ChrisRS

    07/29/2012 at 1:05 pm

    OS X Mountain Lion Dictation is a part of the operating system. I think a mention of, and comparison to MS Windows Voice Recognition is approprite. As you know, MS Voice recognition has been a part of the windows OS fro over ten years and is quite useable. I don’t want to ignite an Apple/MS battle, but this is not a case where Apple has the lead.

    When comparing a feature built into the the OS with a stand alone commercial product, I think it appropriate to mention the costs involved. (free vs. ???)

    I like the content of your article and am pleased to see you identify what you see as the pros and cons and reasonable uses and limitaions of a new feature.

  3. tmavenger

    07/29/2012 at 6:10 pm

    Like you I don’t want to start in MS versus Apple battle. But you’re wrong about voice recognition dictation is actually taking place of OS 10 voice recognition. This capability has been on Apple for many different operating systems so long ago that I can’t remember. However, it has seldom been updated during that time. I’ve never really compared it to Microsoft voice recognition which may be better. This message is being composed with dictation I’m leaving in the mistakes.

  4. KRR

    07/30/2012 at 1:55 pm

    So… in order to use dictation, I have to agree to upload my full address book to Apple? There is no option to use the service without giving Apple my address book? If I decide to stop using it, they’ll keep the audio and transcripts for as long as they deem it useful to them? How is that data secured in transit? How is it secured once it reaches Apple? Who has access to it? How is it eventually disposed of?

    If you’re using your Mac for business, I suggest getting guidance from IT and/or Legal before using this feature on anything relating to HIPAA, PCI, PII, SOx, or other regulated information. Even having Apple dictation available on a system processing sensitive information could be a no-no.

    I know, I know. It’s Apple… I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head about any of those details. I should just buy the new shiney.

    • ricketty rabbit

      07/30/2012 at 3:58 pm

      No, TRR, you don’t have to upload your full address book to use Apple dictation. I just dictated this reply and my address book will never be uploaded to anyone, anywhere. I would rather type in email addresses than have the system input them automatically from my address book.

  5. Andy

    07/31/2012 at 8:59 am

    I presume from the quality of this article, you used your one-day-old Mountain Lion to “write” it.

    I particularly liked, “without offering corrections or the squiggly red wine that you’re used to on iOS”.

    It looks as if you wrote/dictated this article without giving the software a chance. Yes, there are some issues and it would be nice to have some visual feedback as you speak, but you omitted mentioning two things:

    1. The system is supposed to learn from your voice, so the more you use it the better it gets.

    2. Next time you dictate something in Mountain Lion, take a look at the result and you will almost certainly see purple squiggly lines under some words. If you right-click/tap these, you will often get suggestions for ‘close matches”. Even in my 10 minute test, I found more often than not that if ML had put the wrong word in, the correct word or phrase was in its suggestion. I’m surprised you didn’t notice this.

    • k

      07/31/2012 at 2:08 pm

      The squiggly line feature has nothing to do with the speech recognition app. It is a feature of the operating system or the app you were using at that time. One app even auto corrected the spelling from US to Canadian English during my dictation. However, it was the only one of that did. I’m not about to praise the speech recognition feature based on what other apps can do.

      I agree that this article should have been compared to Windows Speech Recognition instead of Nuance’s Dragon Dictate (outrageous cost and terrible customer support aside). It is a third party product. Dragon dictate (naturally speaking) is not closely tied into the system like windows speech recognition is and it would have been a fairer, if not harsher comparison. On the other hand, it probably would have started another MS/Apple war.

      I love my Mac, and I like some things about mountain lion and dislike others. I am not so blind that I’m about to praise a feature that is as useless and counterproductive as the SR in ML (I are not a facebooker). The way it’s implemented works great on my iPhone for ‘texting’ and I use it for what it’s worth, but my Macbooks are not iPhones. Nor do I spend my time uttering out short sentences after repetitively hitting the fn key (if I have to type anyways… well, it kind of defeats the purpose). Often, I am out of town (Like, not near a town) and I have no access to the internet. Sometimes, I’m even out of cell range.

      The way Apple implemented the SR into ML makes it nothing but a toy at best. It’s really not for anyone that wants to use it in a productive environment. And really, there is no BS about that.

  6. Derek Denton

    08/03/2012 at 3:09 am

    Interesting comments all round, I see. I am still wondering about upgrading to ML from SL, not because of the cost, which is very modest, but on account of my finding SL stable and reliable. Some of the social networking stuff is not for me. However, as an author, I was attracted to the idea of the dictation facility. It sounds attractive at first, but the information provided so generously by contributors to this thread has alerted me to the limitations of dictation as a means of producing longer documents. And as for speech marks required in fiction dialogue, it would seem unlikely that the dictation module in ML will cope. I think Dragon must be be the way for me to go. All the same, my experience using an earlier version of Dragon was discouraging. I am not complaining about the limited usefulness of ML, just glad that some people have discussed it in a most helpful way.

    • K

      08/03/2012 at 10:55 am

      Derek, I am one of those people that was looking forward to Speech Recognition in Mountain Lion for the same reason as yourself. I also suffer from Repetitive Stress Injuries from entering data all day long, so every little bit helps.

      I gave Mountain Lion’s Speech Recognition a good run for its money in every app that I own in order to see where its shortcomings were. I discovered that it is not a productive solution. I am a user of Dragon Dictate and I used to be an avid user of Dragon Naturally Speaking until I dumped it for the Windows Speech recognition. Neither supports Canadian English and I’ve come to a point in my life to where I’m tired of paying high prices for something that doesn’t support something as simple as the Nuances in Canadian Spelling—mind the pun.

      This is one thing that I liked about TextEdit and the new Notes in Mountain Lion. They both automatically corrected the spelling during my dictation. However, the apps that matter most to me (Pages and Scrivener) only underlined the misspelled words. Other apps like IA Writer, did neither. It only recognized the Speech and spattered them onto the page as if I were copying and pasting— not an issue if your spelling is supported and you’re not concerned about misspelled words.

      Anyways, I feel that the price for the upgrade is so modest that it’s difficult to avoid the temptation. My main reason for upgrading was the Speech Recognition and I was sorely let down in that area, but I don’t have any regrets in regards to upgrading overall. There are also a few added benefits if you own an iPad and/or an iPhone, along with some newly introduced annoyances.

      One last thing since you brought it up:
      It does support punctuation and commands like ‘New Line’ and ‘New Paragraph’. You mentioned you’re a writer, so you might also be happy to hear that it supports many variations of ‘Quotation.’ Those commands also work on the iPhone. Also, another nice touch is that you can use a Bluetooth microphone to dictate.

      I just don’t think I’d waste my time using it as a means to write an article—much less a novel— due to its main limitations.

  7. Doug

    08/04/2012 at 3:28 pm

    I have a speech impediment. I suppose I should just try the new dictation ‘shiny’ but I wonder if someone has any advice for me.

    • K

      08/10/2012 at 11:16 am

      Hi Doug,

      It depends on how severe your speech impediment is. Sometimes, doing something as simple as changing the language from US to British might help—or slowing down your speech and enunciating as best as you can. Other times, none of those solutions will work. Also keep in mind that the British SR in ML does not support all the same commands as its US counterpart. In cases where you would normally say ‘Period’, you would have to say ‘Full stop’ or one of the other acceptable commands recognized by British speech.

      I would give Mountain Lion’s Speech Recognition a try if you’re planning on upgrading anyway. If it works for you, that’s great; if not, you may want to take a look at Nuance’s Dragon Dictate. Back in version 10 of Naturally Speaking (Dictate’s Windows equivalent), Nuance was offering an option for people with Speech impediments within the software. I would imagine that they have also ported this into the Mac side.

      If you’re seriously considering using Speech Recognition, your best bet would be to contact Nuance’s customer support from their website and ask them if it supports people with impediments. This way, they will also be able to guide you to the right software as well. I’m guessing that the costly Dragon Dictate would be their suggestion since I have a sneaking suspicion that the Dragon Express offered at the App Store is not what you would be looking for.

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