Disclaimer: This article was written using voice dictation on an iPhone and edited in Medium.
It’s a freezing Monday morning in Boston. I’m tempted to work from home but finally I decide to take the train to the office. When I arrive I realize that I used my keyboard and mouse at an event and left them at home. I have a few hours before my downtown meeting.
Can I be productive without a keyboard?
I do have a few calls to make and a pretty long queue articles that I’ve been meaning to read. But if I read how am I going to take notes? I have been having a good experience with voice dictation on my iPhone lately. I could use that to take notes.
I take the train and walking around quite a bit to go to meetings, restaurants and back and forth to the train station. While walking often I find myself replying to emails and Skype messages. Anything longer than a few words can get pretty difficult with one thumb and sometimes dangerous. So I started using voice dictation.
I’ve seen the little microphone next to the space bar on my iPhone keyboard and I see it many webpages. I think I never thought to use it because years ago I tried different speech dictation software that never worked well. In fact at the recent event I gave a UX talk and during the Q&A some attendees were talking about how terrible voice dictation is and why they don’t see it as a viable option for data collection.
Apples iOS 8 has greatly improved the voice dictation feature and now it works in real time. This means as you speak the words appear. In the past you would have to hit the “done” button and wait. You still have to use your fingers to backspace or send messages but it’s a lot faster and easier than thumbing keys.
So today I thought “I wonder if I can write an entire blog article using voice dictation?”
If I’m going to write a blog article about dictation I might as well use dictation to write it. Could this be faster than regular writing? Is this the answer to all those on unwritten blog post ideas I have been procrastinating?
First, what app should I use? I could use the built-in notes app. Instead I decided to search the app store. I didn’t search for dictation but instead for writing apps. There were a few that didn’t look too exciting. Apple Pages came up which I’m surprised I didn’t think of as an option. I did consider using Google docs.
I ended up using an app called Werdsmith. It’s pretty simple and allows you to list both ideas and projects. Any idea becomes a project when you set a word count goal. It doesn’t have a lot of formatting extra functionality as far as I can tell. This is fine for dictation. I assume I will paste the content WordPress or Medium to finish editing.
There are a few challenges.
- Dictation sends the voice data to the cloud to transcribe it. If you don’t have a signal then you’re out of luck. And if you have a spotty signal you may run into some glitches such as it being very slow or getting stuck.
- I was really impressed with how well it worked at the train station. The stop near my home is right next to the highway. It’s very noisy but with my earbuds and microphone the dictation works fine.
- When I get on the train I feel a bit uncomfortable talking and and I automatically start writing with my thumbs. This is more a behavior shift for me — not caring so much what people think.
- Another challenge is to get into the habit of having my earbuds in place and using voice instead of my fingers. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time.
- Finally I hope the support of functions and formatting will improve. You can do some simple things with formatting like punctuation, new lines etc. The most frustrating is that you can’t send. When I finish typing and dictating an email or Skype message I would love to just say “send”.
Well it looks like it’s possible to write a decent article using purely voice dictation. I have had to jump in and make some thumb edits but it’s a pretty good experience. Its certainly better than writing on my phone keyboard, not sure replace the full keyboard anytime soon.
I might check out some dictation apps next. Maybe they will have the ability to send messages or add a hyperlink. I also have a Galaxy S5 which I’m sure would be a similar experience. Dictation works on the desktop for Mac users, you can enable it in your system preferences. I tried it a couple of times, it’s not easy to get used to. Not sure about Windows.
What’s your experience with voice dictation?