If you like to use speech recognition on a Windows PC or Mac, but you find an external microphone to be a pain in the neck, Nuance's Dragon Remote Microphone app for iOS will let you utter your words into an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch instead.
The app works in conjunction with members of Nuance's Dragon's PC software program line-up to let you dictate text into Windows and MacOS applications such as Microsoft Word for text conversion, as well as speak voice commands for controlling both PC applications and OS.
Dragon PC applications, though, require a microphone or some other voice input device. Most but not all new notebook PCs have built-in mikes, yet older models might not, and few new desktop models do. Headsets are another option for voice entry, but not all of them offer enough sound quality -- or optimum placement -- to be used effectively with a PC speech recognition program. Particularly if you're toting a notebook around, you might not want to be adding a headset to your accessories, if you can avoid it.
With the Dragon Remote Mike app, however, you can use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch as an alternative. The iOS app is free -- although, of course, you'l have to buy a copy of a Dragon application for Windows or Mac if you haven't done so already.
To review the iOS app, I used version 1.0 of the app, released June 13, 2011. For Windows users, the app works with version 11.5 or higher of Dragon NaturallySpeaking -- the Premium, Professional and Legal editions, but not the Home Edition. For MacOS users, the apps works with version 2.5 or higher of Dragon Dictate, but not with Dictate Legal or Dictate Medical.
For my review, I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking v11.5 -- installed on a Lenovo IdeaPad U260 notebook running Windows 7 -- with my iPhone 4. (One caveat: I haven't used the app with a Mac, so some of my findings might not apply.)
Dragon Remote Microphone is not to be confused with another iOS app from Nuance. Nuance's Dragon Dictation for iOS lets you perform voice dictation on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch devices, but only within Apple's iOS environment.
Easy installation and configuration
Like every other app I've downloaded from Apple's App Store, Dragon Remote Microphone is easy to install. For configuration, it really helps if your computer is running the Bonjour service for establishing a handshare between the computer and the iOS app. Although Nuance says that this process can also be accomplished manually anyway, the app contains all the links you'll need for determining whether Bonjour is present and installing it, if not. For the computer and the iOS app to carry out a handshake, you'll need to have your computer and WiFi turned on.
I used Nuance in my tests. and the iOS app had no trouble finding my computer and establishing a WiFI network connection to the notebook.
Getting started with the app
Once your computer and iPhone have recognized each other, the application assigns a profile name, Nuance, however, supports multiple audio sources,
So if you have already configured Dragon for one or more other audio devices (such as a notebook's built-in microphone, a headset, or an external microphone), Nuance suggests you add the iPhone (or iPad or iPod) as an additional source. This lets Dragon use your existing user profile, thereby maintaining any existing vocabulary or other data that Nuance has already accumulated for you.
To get started, you select the PC application through Dragon that you want to dictate to and/or control as your foreground application.
Then you simply tap the "mike button" on the iOS display. While this button is still red, tap when you're ready to go. The button will turn green to show it's "live." (Dragon will display a little colored icon in the foreground app, to confirm that the speech recognition is active.) When you want to stop using speech recognition, tap the button back to red.
Following directions (or not)
As with other other application, you'll probably (although not necessarily always) get the best results by knowing and following the vendor's directions, In this case, these are related to a brief "training" as well as the recommended spatial orientation and distance for use of the iPhone.
I initially tried holding my iPhone in my normal grip, like a deck of cards, with the screen facing me. (Envision Scotty in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, holding the computer mouse to attempt to talk to a 20th-century computer.)
However, I then came across a video on the Nuance site which shows the iPhone being held with the bottom -- where the microphone is -- pointed out and away from your mouth (as though the iPhone is a piece of Zwieback you're getting ready to eat).
The video also advises holding the microphone about four inches from your mouth, for optimal voice recognition.
Yet there's something really annoying about the recommended orientation, and it's that you can't see the iPhone's display that way. I conducted some tests holding the iPhone in closer to an upright position, and I didn't notice any degradation of transcription accuracy.
The Dragon software also suggests that you spend about four to five minutes in "training mode" -- reading displayed text into the iPhone -- to help the software begin getting used to your voice. You can skip that step, but it's probably worth taking the time.
Based on my tests, Nuance's Dragon Remote Micrrophone app for iOS works as promised. It installs and configures easily, and it does indeed let me use my iPhone as a handheld wireless microphone to dictate to and/or voice-control applications on a Windows 7 notebook.
What can be harder, though, is to learn and familiarize yourself with the PC speech recognition application itself. For example, Dragon has specific commands for backing up, erasing previous words, etc. If you just go with your instincts, you might find yourself simply blurting out "Cancel" or "No!" instead of using Dragon's commands. So be prepared to spend some time reading Dragon's built-in help and practicing. The latest versions of Dragon offer improved contextual sidebar help.
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