In the past couple of years, products like IBM’s ViaVoice have allowed Mac users to create text documents using the spoken word instead of the keyboard. These products often require more of an investment in time and money than they are worth (Ask my dad!).

On the other hand, in the interest of making the computer more accessible, the MacOS has bundled speech recognition software for some time. I recently tried it out on my Powerbook G4 and was pleasantly surprised (I also used it on my iMac G3 450mhz) by the accuracy and ease of use when doing something simple, like surfing the internet.
Turn it On : To turn Apple’s Speech Recognition on in MacOS X, go to the Speech Control Panel (pictured right), in the System Preferences. To get started, you must first turn Apple Speakable Items ON. This is done by selecting the On button (off by default).

You can also select whether or not you want speakable items turned on at Log In. There are some other settings that can be changed here that are not essential to the process (which sound will play when a command is recognized, speak text feedback, helpful tips).

Turning Speakable items on will open the Speech Feedback monitor. (Pictured Below, Right) This monitor indicates how well the computer is picking up your voice, and whether or not it is recognizing a command. You should shoot for green bars when speaking commands. Blue is probably too low and red is probably too high.

Set It Up : Now that you have Speakable Items On, you have to adjust the Listening Settings, which tell the computer when you want it to listen for your voice. To do this, click on the Listening Tab.

The first thing you will want to identify is the key that is selected as the Listening Key. This key will turn listening on and off, and can be changed by clicking on Change Key… button (It will be set to Esc by default).

Next, you will have to select the Listening Method that you would like to use. You can set it up so that the computer only listens for your commands while the Listening Key is pressed, or to listen all the time and use the Listening Key as a toggle to turn listening on and off. If you choose to use the listening key as a toggle, but do not want the computer reacting to every sound it hears, then you can set the name of the computer and make it required before each command. I would recommend this, especially in a noisy environment. You can also select whether you want to use the internal microphone, or an external microphone that you have attached to the computer. I have been using the internal Mic and have found that it works well in my office and kitchen. Now that all of your setting are set, you are ready to take it for a spin.

Commands : There are a number of commands that can be used with Speakable Items, but I am only going to cover those pertinent to Internet Explorer. To see a list of all of the commands, click on the down arrow in the Speech Feedback Monitor, and click on Open Speech Commands.

IE Commands : These are the most important commands that you will use with Internet Explorer.

  • Open My Browser: Launches your web browser.
    • Make This Page Speakable : This command is the most important command (when using IE). This allows you to go to any web page simply by saying its name (or any name that you give it).
      • Go Back : Takes you back one page (the back button)
        • Go Forward : Takes you forward one page (the forward button)
          • Stop Loading : Stops a page that is loading (the stop button)
            • Reload this page : Reloads a page (the reload button)
              • Define a keyboard command : This is probably the most useful command in the entire Speakable Items Library. This command allows you to turn a keyboard command (like apple - p) into a speech command “Print”.

                Create your own Commands : Using the define keyboard command (pictured below), you can create all sorts of voice activated commands for navigating not only Internet Explorer (IE) but also your system. Below are few that I created (followed by their keyboard shortcut). Click to download the sites and commands that I have made speakable.

                • Scroll Up (in IE - Up Arrow)
                  • Scroll Down (in IE - Down Arrow)
                    • Next Link (in IE - Tab - Tabs to all of the links on a page)
                      • Follow Link (in IE - Return - Follows the selected link)

                        There are many more that you could create. For a list of all the keyboard shortcuts in IE, go to the IE Help menu and search the index for Keyboard Shortcuts. Once you know the keyboard shortcut, it is as simple as saying ‘Define Keyboard Command’!

                        Tips : Can’t remember a command? Click on the Open Speech Commands Window. This will give you a list of all the commands available (and is updated when you add your own commands). Computer can’t hear ya? Say it again. Try creating a phrase that is not so difficult to understand or that is unique. When creating commands use simple phrases that make sense and will be easy to remember.

                        Final Word : Is the future here? In Minority Report, Tom Cruise walks around his house talking to the lights, turning them on and off. Could this be the start of that technology? This software works pretty well. I have found that sometimes I have to toggle the Listening on and off to get it to recognize that I am speaking. I also found that it doesn’t work as well on a 233mhz Bondi iMac.

                        I can definitely see myself walking into a room and saying, Music On, Play Most Popular Playlist…all through my Digital Hub, my Apple Computer.

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