Dragon Dictation: Mythically Good Speech Recognition

Dragon Dictation is an app for the iPad that allows you to speak into the iPad, and have the words automatically transcribed for you into text. It wouldn’t be correct to type this article then, would it?

So what you are reading has been completely and automatically transcribed by this application whilst I sat in cars, cafes, and coffee shops, chatting away to my iPad.

Embarrassing – yes. Enlightening – absolutely! Let me share with you what I found…

On opening Dragon Dictation.

Dragon Dictation utilises the microphone and processing power of your iPad to turn spoken words into text. It also requires a connection to a remote server for assistance.

Whilst it needs an internet connection, operation over 3G is perfectly fine as only small amounts of data are uploaded and downloaded. This whole article uploaded less than 3MB, and downloaded just under that.

One operational point – I had to remove my smart cover in order to access the microphone clearly. You may also have to remove your tiger-pattern plush velvet cover too, or whatever you bought, in order to be heard clearly. Another minor point is that the “Speak here” advice that points you to the location of the microphone, still points to the original iPad location, not to the centralised iPad 2’s microphone.

The interface is minimal, with only a central record button, + symbol to start a new session, bin to delete notes, and some export and settings options under the final “arrow pointing to line” symbol (what does this symbolise? Answers in the comments below….):

Minimalistic menu..

Minimalistic menu.

The note button will take you back to previously recorded items, or you can rotate to landscape to see brief headers in a left-hand pane. It would be useful to have the record button as one of the hardware buttons. It would also be useful to have Dropbox integration, although there are some useful export options already included.

For simple uses such as dictating a short piece, Dragon Dictation is excellent. It can also be used to dictate longer items, such as an article or several paragraphs, and I found it helpful when first starting out to initially record for only about 10 seconds or so before pausing to check the text. This saves wasting time by speaking for a very long while, only to realise that the app is having difficulty with your voice, perhaps because your glove is over the mic, or (and) you’re munching on a cheese toastie…

To be able just to speak to the iPad at a reasonable speed and have the words appear in text is quite simply magical to do and see. Dragon Dictation does this excellently, and I feel that it’s a great use of the iPad’s processing power and speed. You can then decide what to do with your finished transcribed text…

A Multitude of Uses

What can you do with your transcribed text from Dragon Dictation?

  • Upload a tweet direct to Twitter.
  • Facebook updates are a breeze.
  • E-mail your spoken masterpiece.
  • Copy and paste into other apps, such as PlainText.

For quick ‘off the cuff’ remarks, Dragon Dictation can rapidly get them up onto your favourite social networking site…

Coffee :)

Speaking a Facebook update, smiley and all, is a breeze...

One of the things that is a bit frustrating is touching the red record button to start and stop recording. It takes a little bit of practice to hit it just right every time, and would be more suited to a re-programmed hardware button.

Should you need to make changes to your spoken text the iPad on-screen keyboard is always handy and can pop up on a touch of the keyboard icon which is always available on screen. The built-in text editor is basic but functional, it gets the job done. Unfortunately, you can’t paste text into the app, to do some vocal editing, it’s just not the focus of the app.

Once you’ve finished recording your speech the iPad goes into processing mode converting your spoken audio into text. It is quick, and suprisingly accurate for a first time use. The app learns over time to recognise your voice and the way you say things, so accuracy should improve the more you use it.


Of course one of the main objections to using something like Dragon Dictation is the self-consciousness of speaking out loud to a machine, even in a car or in another private space if you don’t fancy braving your local coffee shop for a cosy chat with your tech. For me this distraction is a small price to pay for rapid text input in an accurate manner, but it probably pays to be a little extrovert or not minding attention…

With the introduction of Siri this kind of talking to your devices will hopefully become more socially acceptable and normal.

One of the trickier things to get used to is simply speaking punctuation. Thankfully there is a quick-reference guide under the ‘i’ at the bottom right of the app:

Punctuation tips

Punctuation tips available under the 'i'.

Of course accurately transforming your spoken word into text is just half the battle. First you have to have something good and useful to say. This takes a little practice, formulating sentences in your mind before speaking them. Arguably, it makes for a more disciplined, perhaps clearer, writing style.

As you’d expect Dragon Dictation has an inbuilt dictionary to help with individual word correction, and copes with many unusual and unexpected words and phrases.

For best results, though, find a quiet place to sit and speak clearly – the less background noise there is, the better the results.

It also helps if you have clear diction and say-each-word-very-distinctly. This saves a lot of typing, or checking afterwards. What is perhaps even more suprising, though, is that you can just chat away at a normal conversational speed, and the accuracy stays respectably high. Here is an example of the famous Shakespeare speech from Hamlet, To be, or not to be…, spoken at my normal conversational speed:

To be accurate, or not to be...

To be accurate, or not to be...

And, to conclude on a jolly note, the application also has a very cool party game. Simply have someone say a well know phrase or song into Dragon Dictation, at a decent speed, and watch with amazement at how much it gets, or laugh at its choice word replacements. Try it with your friends! You know you want to…


Converts spoken speech to text automatically, and with impressive accuracy. And it's free!