It’s been a popular sci-fi fantasy for decades: That someday, we’d talk to our computers instead of typing into them. Blame Captain Kirk and the minds of the Star Trek writers who dreamed him up.
Dictation came to the Mac before it came to phones. But Siri—the virtual assistant who not only understands what you say, but also executes your commands and answers your questions—was an iPhone-only feature first. But now, in macOS Sierra, Siri has finally come to the desktop.
This chapter covers both of the Mac’s speech-recognition features: Dictation (that is, typing by speaking) and Siri (giving your Mac commands and questions by voice).
Dictation is built into the Mac, just as it is on the latest iPhones and iPads. You can speak to enter text anywhere, into any program, just by speaking. (Behind the scenes, it’s using the same Nuance recognition technology that powers Dragon Dictate.) You can blather away into an email, fire off a text message, or draft a memo without ever looking at the screen.
Now, before you get all excited, here are the necessary footnotes:
Voice typing works best if there’s not a lot of background noise. If you’re not wearing a headset microphone, this feature prefers Macs that have dual microphones, like MacBooks with Retina Displays; those two mikes create a “beam array”—a directional alignment that helps them differentiate your voice from the background noise.
Voice typing isn’t always practical, since everybody around you can ...