Continuous offline dictation in Mavericks

The dictation feature introduced last year in OS X Mountain Lion left a lot to be desired. Just like Siri on iOS, it required you to speak in short bursts, then wait while the data was sent to Apple’s servers and the results were returned. As well as requiring a constant internet connection, it was almost unusable for dictating anything more than a couple of sentences.

Fortunately, with OS X Mavericks, there is now an option to enable “Enhanced Dictation”, which solves a lot of these problems. To do this, open up System Preferences and go to the Dictation and Speech section. Here you will find a checkbox, Use Enhanced Dictation, which “allows offline use and continuous dictation with live feedback”.

Mavericks Enhanced Dictation

As you will probably notice, enabling this feature requires a fairly large download. For me this was 491 MB, but others have reported between 700 and 800 MB, so I suspect it depends on your chosen language.

Once the download has completed, you can dictate text just as before, using the shortcut specified in the Dictation and Speech preferences. Only now you will find the transcription happens locally on your Mac instead of on Apple’s servers. This allows the words to appear “live”, as you speak, resulting in a much more enjoyable and useful dictation process.

There are a number of dictation commands to help with formatting and punctuation. As far as I can tell, these are just the same as in Mountain Lion, however they become much more useful with this new enhanced dictation feature. Apple provides a full list, which contains things like “all caps”, “smiley face”, “new paragraph” and “next line”.

While this is a massive improvement over Mountain Lion’s dictation features, there are still a few further additions needed before the free built in OS X dictation will be a serious competitor to commercial alternatives such as Dragon Dictate. For example, there needs to be a quick and easy way to edit existing text and correct transcription errors, preferably without needing to use the keyboard or mouse. It would also be great if the system automatically learnt from your corrections over time, or allowed manual training through the addition of tricky words such as names and places to the dictionary. Maybe next year...

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