macOS Catalina introduces Voice Control, a new way to fully control your Mac entirely with your voice. Voice Control uses the Siri speech-recognition engine to improve on the Enhanced Dictation feature available in earlier versions of macOS.1
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Nuance on Friday released a universal version of its Dragon Dictation software for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. The iPad version adds Dragon Notes, which allows users to dictate shopping lists. Aug 23, 2016 Learn about new features and changes in Dragon Professional Individual for Mac 6, the Nuance speech recognition software for Apple computers running Mac OS X 10.11 Yosemite, 10.12 Sierra, or 10.13 High Sierra. We’ll also briefly compare Dragon Pro Individual 6 with Dragon for Mac 5.
How to turn on Voice Control
After upgrading to macOS Catalina, follow these steps to turn on Voice Control:
- Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Accessibility.
- Click Voice Control in the sidebar.
- Select Enable Voice Control. When you turn on Voice Control for the first time, your Mac completes a one-time download from Apple.2
Voice Control preferences
When Voice Control is enabled, you see an onscreen microphone representing the mic selected in Voice Control preferences.
To pause Voice Control and stop it from from listening, say ”Go to sleep” or click Sleep. To resume Voice Control, say or click ”Wake up.”
How to use Voice Control
Get to know Voice Control by reviewing the list of voice commands available to you: Say “Show commands” or ”Show me what I can say.” The list varies based on context, and you may discover variations not listed. To make it easier to know whether Voice Control heard your phrase as a command, you can select ”Play sound when command is recognized” in Voice Control preferences.
Voice Control recognizes the names of many apps, labels, controls, and other onscreen items, so you can navigate by combining those names with certain commands. Here are some examples:
- Open Pages: ”Open Pages.” Then create a new document: ”Click New Document.” Then choose one of the letter templates: 'Click Letter. Click Classic Letter.” Then save your document: ”Save document.”
- Start a new message in Mail: ”Click New Message.” Then address it: ”John Appleseed.”
- Turn on Dark Mode: ”Open System Preferences. Click General. Click Dark.” Then quit System Preferences: ”Quit System Preferences” or ”Close window.”
- Restart your Mac: ”Click Apple menu. Click Restart” (or use the number overlay and say ”Click 8”).
You can also create your own voice commands.
Use number overlays to quickly interact with parts of the screen that Voice Control recognizes as clickable, such as menus, checkboxes, and buttons. To turn on number overlays, say ”Show numbers.” Then just say a number to click it.
Number overlays make it easy to interact with complex interfaces, such as web pages. For example, in your web browser you could say ”Search for Apple stores near me.” Then use the number overlay to choose one of the results: ”Show numbers. Click 64.” (If the name of the link is unique, you might also be able to click it without overlays by saying ”Click” and the name of the link.)
Voice Control automatically shows numbers in menus and wherever you need to distinguish between items that have the same name.
Use grid overlays to interact with parts of the screen that don't have a control, or that Voice Control doesn't recognize as clickable.
Say “Show grid” to show a numbered grid on your screen, or ”Show window grid” to limit the grid to the active window. Say a grid number to subdivide that area of the grid, and repeat as needed to continue refining your selection.
To click the item behind a grid number, say ”Click” and the number. Or say ”Zoom” and the number to zoom in on that area of the grid, then automatically hide the grid. You can also use grid numbers to drag a selected item from one area of the grid to another: ”Drag 3 to 14.”
To hide grid numbers, say ”Hide numbers.” To hide both numbers and grid, say ”Hide grid.”
When the cursor is in a document, email message, text message, or other text field, you can dictate continuously. Dictation converts your spoken words into text.
- To enter a punctuation mark, symbol, or emoji, just speak its name, such as ”question mark” or ”percent sign” or ”happy emoji.” These may vary by language or dialect.
- To move around and select text, you can use commands like ”Move up two sentences” or ”Move forward one paragraph” or ”Select previous word” or ”Select next paragraph.”
- To format text, try ”Bold that” or ”Capitalize that,” for example. Say ”numeral” to format your next phrase as a number.
- To delete text, you can choose from many delete commands. For example, say “delete that” and Voice Control knows to delete what you just typed. Or say ”Delete all” to delete everything and start over.
Voice Control understands contextual cues, so you can seamlessly transition between text dictation and commands. For example, to dictate and then send a birthday greeting in Messages, you could say ”Happy Birthday. Click Send.” Or to replace a phrase, say ”Replace I’m almost there with I just arrived.”
You can also create your own vocabulary for use with dictation.
Create your own voice commands and vocabulary
Create your own voice commands
- Open Voice Control preferences, such as by saying ”Open Voice Control preferences.”
- Click Commands or say ”Click Commands.” The complete list of all commands opens.
- To add a new command, click the add button (+) or say ”Click add.” Then configure these options to define the command:
- When I say: Enter the word or phrase that you want to be able to speak to perform the action.
- While using: Choose whether your Mac performs the action only when you're using a particular app.
- Perform: Choose the action to perform. You can open a Finder item, open a URL, paste text, paste data from the clipboard, press a keyboard shortcut, select a menu item, or run an Automator workflow.
- Use the checkboxes to turn commands on or off. You can also select a command to find out whether other phrases work with that command. For example, “Undo that” works with several phrases, including “Undo this” and “Scratch that.”
To quickly add a new command, you can say ”Make this speakable.” Voice Control will help you configure the new command based on the context. For example, if you speak this command while a menu item is selected, Voice Control helps you make a command for choosing that menu item.
Create your own dictation vocabulary
- Open Voice Control preferences, such as by saying ”Open Voice Control preferences.”
- Click Vocabulary, or say ”Click Vocabulary.”
- Click the add button (+) or say ”Click add.”
- Type a new word or phrase as you want it to be entered when spoken.
- For the best performance when using Voice Control with a Mac notebook computer and an external display, keep your notebook lid open or use an external microphone.
- All audio processing for Voice Control happens on your device, so your personal data is always kept private.
- Use Voice Control on your iPhone or iPod touch.
- Learn more about accessibility features in Apple products.
1. Voice Control uses the Siri speech-recognition engine for U.S. English only. Other languages and dialects use the speech-recognition engine previously available with Enhanced Dictation.
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2. If you're on a business or school network that uses a proxy server, Voice Control might not be able to download. Have your network administrator refer to the network ports used by Apple software products.
In October 2018, Nuance announced that it has discontinued Dragon Professional Individual for Mac and will support it for only 90 days from activation in the US or 180 days in the rest of the world. The continuous speech-to-text software was widely considered to be the gold standard for speech recognition, and Nuance continues to develop and sell the Windows versions of Dragon Home, Dragon Professional Individual, and various profession-specific solutions.
This move is a blow to professional users—such as doctors, lawyers, and law enforcement—who depended on Dragon for dictating to their Macs, but the community most significantly affected are those who can control their Macs only with their voices.
What about Apple’s built-in accessibility solutions? macOS does support voice dictation, although my experience is that it’s not even as good as dictation in iOS, much less Dragon Professional Individual. Some level of voice control of the Mac is also available via Dictation Commands, but again, it’s not as powerful as what was available from Dragon Professional Individual.
TidBITS reader Todd Scheresky is a software engineer who relies on Dragon Professional Individual for his work because he’s a quadriplegic and has no use of his arms. He has suggested several ways that Apple needs to improve macOS speech recognition to make it a viable alternative to Dragon Professional Individual:
- Support for user-added custom words: Every profession has its own terminology and jargon, which is part of why there are legal, medical, and law enforcement versions of Dragon for Windows. Scheresky isn’t asking Apple to provide such custom vocabularies, but he needs to be able to add custom words to the vocabulary to carry out his work.
- Support for speaker-dependent continuous speech recognition: Currently, macOS’s speech recognition is speaker-independent, which means that it works pretty well for everyone. But Scheresky believes it needs to become speaker-dependent, so it can learn from your corrections to improve recognition accuracy. Also, Apple’s speech recognition isn’t continuous—it works for only a few minutes before stopping and needing to be reinvoked.
- Support for cursor positioning and mouse button events: Although Scheresky acknowledges that macOS’s Dictation Commands are pretty good and provide decent support for text cursor positioning, macOS has nothing like Nuance’s MouseGrid, which divides the screen into a 3-by-3 grid and enables the user to zoom in to a grid coordinate, then displaying another 3-by-3 grid to continue zooming. Nor does Apple have anything like Nuance’s mouse commands for moving and clicking the mouse pointer.
When Scheresky complained to Apple’s accessibility team about macOS’s limitations, they suggested the Switch Control feature, which enables users to move the pointer (along with other actions) by clicking a switch. He talks about this in a video.
Unfortunately, although Switch Control would let Scheresky control a Mac using a sip-and-puff switch or a head switch, such solutions would be both far slower than voice and a literal pain in the neck. There are some better alternatives for mouse pointer positioning:
- Dedicated software, in the form of a $35 app called iTracker.
- An off-the-shelf hack using Keyboard Maestro and Automator.
- An expensive head-mounted pointing device, although the SmartNav is $600 and the HeadMouse Nano and TrackerPro are both about $1000. It’s also not clear how well they interface with current versions of macOS.
Regardless, if Apple enhanced macOS’s voice recognition in the ways Scheresky suggests, it would become significantly more useful and would give users with physical limitations significantly more control over their Macs… and their lives. If you’d like to help, Scheresky suggests submitting feature request feedback to Apple with text along the following lines (feel free to copy and paste it):
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Because Nuance has discontinued Dragon Professional Individual for Mac, it is becoming difficult for disabled users to use the Mac. Please enhance macOS speech recognition to support user-added custom words, speaker-dependent continuous speech recognition that learns from user corrections to improve accuracy, and cursor positioning and mouse button events.
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Thank you for your consideration!
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Thanks for encouraging Apple to bring macOS’s accessibility features up to the level necessary to provide an alternative to Dragon Professional Individual for Mac. Such improvements will help both those who face physical challenges to using the Mac and those for whom dictation is a professional necessity.