The promise of natural, responsive speech to text capabilities has long been a dominant dream of computer technology, stretching back to the science fiction dreams of decades past. As speech-centric creatures, it is understandable that humans want to interface with their tech in such a familiar way. Following the actual evolution of punch cards, keyboards, mice and touchscreens, the ability for machines to comprehend and accurately interpret speech is finally catching up with the human imagination.
This is in large part thanks to Massachusetts tech firm Dragon, now part of Nuance Communications. Dragon has been pioneering computer speech recognition for over 40 years. Their first consumer product, Dragon Dictate, came out in 1990 and cost as much as a used car. However, Dragon’s NaturallySpeaking series began pushing the boundaries of dictation and speech recognition software in the 2000s. NaturallySpeaking is still an industry cornerstone, but with each new release the onus is on Nuance to remain innovative and intuitive.
NaturallySpeaking 13: Newest Heir to the Dragon Name
NaturallySpeaking is still synonymous with computer dictation, but that competition has become much fiercer. Naturally, Nuance is going to strive for new features in a bid to retain their leading market status, especially for users who shell out extra for the premium edition. All of this is in addition to not only retaining, but also improving the much-vaunted accuracy of the NaturallySpeaking series. Unsurprisingly, Nuance has put clear effort into both facets of their flagship product. For the most part, those efforts have paid off to create a robust and modern speech to text software title that lives up to the iconic NaturallySpeaking name.
Expanding Software Compatibility
The essence of NaturallySpeaking software is the ability to dictate text. That may have been novel during the early days of the software, but Windows machines are now equipped with a version of those capabilities – not to mention the increasingly sophisticated speech recognition of smartphone operating systems. The Windows-based user base of NaturallySpeaking is going to demand a bit more than that in the 2010s, and the premium version does offer up the classic Dragon extras along with a new slew of features.
NaturallySpeaking is traditionally compatible with Windows operating systems. However, compatibility with boilerplate Microsoft programs is also a must. Microsoft Word would be the classic choice for speech to text capability, and of course this version of NaturallySpeaking allows for dictation into Word documents. However, the Premium version also includes support for other MS Office applications such as Excel, Outlook and even Notepad for quick text dictation.
This iteration of NaturallySpeaking can also accompany users while web browsing – assuming they are Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome. Those well-used browsers now support the software for speech-based navigation, but the longstanding relationship with Microsoft continues as users can now also use NaturallySpeaking to search on Bing. While the software’s compatibility remains MS-centric, users of enormously popular webmail clients and social media behemoths take heart: Gmail, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter also support NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium.
While these programs and web services are compatible with standard NaturallySpeaking dictation, the application’s classic DragonBar control is still available throughout most of the Windows environment, just not with the same level of direct support. These moves towards universal compatibility is part of Nuance’s pursuit of a total voice-controlled user experience transcending traditional speech dictation. This makes sense with the competition from native speech recognition on modern operating systems. Like any venerable software franchise, NaturallySpeaking also shows a clear effort to both retain and evolve the feel of its classic user interface.
DragonBar Controls: The Old and the New
DragonBar has long been the essence of the NaturallySpeaking experience. NaturallySpeaking is versatile and adaptable, yet powerful. The dictation box was a welcome and useful addition to a supported word processing program, even as the application’s text accuracy has come a long way in the past 17 years. Like most entities in this position, Nuance has kept the program’s cornerstone in place.
The DragonBar controls remain a presence with many Lloyd the familiar function. A microphone icon indicates whether the program is ready for dictation, and users can arm or disarm the microphone with these controls. The DragonBar also enable users to change their audio setting, profile or add vocabulary or auto text commands. While veteran NaturallySpeaking users may have come to expect such functionality from their DragonBar, the controls also include useful voice commands enabling basic control of many Microsoft programs, scrolling and common tasks, such as dictating a tweet, that further ensconce this evolving application in the realm of modern voice control.
The DragonBar itself has a contemporary look and fast response time. While the full control panel is a bit extensive, the bar minimizes into a smaller microphone icon when the full DragonBar is not used or needed. While even this may be a larger presence than some users are willing to bear constantly, there was some clear consideration put into balancing utility and unobtrusiveness.
A Move Away from the Proprietary
In past releases, NaturallySpeaking required the use of a headset or external microphone. In the days before laptops with microphones became near-universal, and consumer PC microphone quality was often questionable at best, requiring some extra hardware made sense. Built-in computer microphones do sometimes leave a lot to be desired, but the modern technology consumer is accustomed to voice-ready devices, from laptops to smartphones to smart speakers. Nuance has taken a few steps towards acknowledging this. Support now extends beyond external microphones, and users have the option to dictate using their built-in microphones. A headset or external microphone does yield more accurate results, but NaturallySpeaking is heading in the right direction with this release.
More notably, Dragon’s Remote Microphone app allows for dictation using a mobile device. Dragon has other apps for mobile dictation, but Remote Microphone is specifically for syncing a mobile device with a home computer. Users can simply use their iOS or Android device as a microphone with their PC via a WiFi network. By most accounts, the accuracy using Remote Microphone is an improvement over standard internal computer microphones, and the range of a WiFi network permits greater flexibility. Buyers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium also have the option of a handheld voice recorder for dictation on the go, with the ability to sync with their computer’s Dragon software. Speaking of flexibility, Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium is also compatible with Bluetooth microphones and headsets. While mobile and internal microphone options represent a needed acknowledgment of modern needs, wired or Bluetooth microphones still permit the best speech to text accuracy of this NaturallySpeaking release.
The Promise of Dragon and NaturallySpeaking: Accuracy for Natural Speech
Accuracy has long been the main bugaboo weighing down dictation software and speech to text. The science fiction promise of easy verbal communication with a machine has waited a long time for reality to catch up. Fortunately, the industry-leading NaturallySpeaking software has begun living up to its own promise.
Anyone familiar with past versions of NaturallySpeaking knows the drill: a long teaching process starting with the need to read long speeches and tracts of text into a microphone while the software learns patiently. Even after all that reading, the program continued to learn the users’ natural pronunciation and speech idiosyncrasies, slowly building a useful understanding over time. However, in year’s past, the software often required patience even after a good deal of learning. This was not a limitation of the software as much as a limitation of the speech recognition technology of the past.
Anyone who dreads a new NaturallySpeaking purchase for these reasons can enjoy a sigh of relief. No more speeches, short stories or David Foster Wallace novels are part of this software’s learning process. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium demonstrates impressive accuracy right out of the box. Of course, the accuracy is still not perfect, and those who are new to the world of text to speech may find it difficult to speak naturally when attempting dictation. However, this Nuance software learns as it always has – just with better speed and accuracy. Giving the software access to past text documents may expedite the learning process.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium – The Verdict
Nuance has demonstrated that it means business in its attempt to bring an old warhorse of a software franchise into the modern landscape. The compatibility with internal laptop microphones has been a long time coming, but the integration of a mobile app with smartphone/tablet capabilities is hugely welcome.
Other significant improvements include the portable digital recorder and the improved learning curve. While these features do not represent a leap into the future the way a mobile app does, they are an important demonstration of Nuance’s own commitment to improvement and innovation.
The other qualities that this Dragon NaturallySpeaking software can boast about – including an intuitive interface and compatibility with popular programs and websites – represent a more gradual evolution of this Nuance property, but they do add persuasive points in this application’s favor.
Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium demonstrates a few sorely needed yet crucial steps in the right direction. The software may not be perfect or massively groundbreaking, but Nuance has put a lot of work into holding their own in the present day of speech to text technology. Thanks to those substantial efforts, NaturallySpeaking 13 Premium is a worthwhile investment for anybody interested in professional-grade dictation and voice control software, and a worthy addition to the NaturallySpeaking dynasty.