Voice Input Challenge: Off to a rocky start

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 31, 2012

To be honest, when I came up with the idea of the Voice Input Challenge, I knew it would be tough and that it would press some boundaries, specifically those that pertain to my sanity. Yesterday morning was day number one of the challenge and let's just say it wasn't exactly as smooth as I was hoping. I prepared and expected to hit a few hurdles as I had toyed around with dictation in the past and knew some of its limitations. But when you completely cut out typing with a keyboard and rely solely on the powers of dictation, its shortcomings are almost immediately evident.

Through all of the issues, I stuck to my guns. And I have every intention to continue to do so for another six days. But here are the larger issues I faced on day one:

 

Force of habit

Yesterday morning, I rolled out of bed and grabbed my phone to respond to some text messages I had received over night. Instead of immediately going to the dictation button, I caught myself wanting to type out responses. I typed two words and caught myself, deleted them and closed out of the message. I then went into another room for some privacy so I could respond.

I caught myself wanting to type messages all day, especially when there were a handful of people around, which gets me to my next point …

 

Privacy

I don't like talking on the phone when other people are around. It's rude. Not only that, but the person on the outside of the conversation only gets fragments and can only guess what you and the other person are talking about.

But talking on the phone in public and around friends or family members has become somewhat accepted over time. Nobody is going to complain if you answer a phone call when your friends are over or if you're around a few people. Everyone (or most everyone) has a cell phone these days and a phone call can come at any given time. Still, I choose to walk off or out of the room when I receive a phone call.

Speaking your text messages is, in just about every single way, worse than a phone call. Not only do eavesdroppers get only one side of the conversation, they're more prone to listen in to the guy who's speaking to his phone with seemingly no one on the other end. And I receive text messages much more frequently than phone calls. I caught myself walking in and out of the coffee shop every few minutes just to send a text message yesterday.

This is something I hope I can get over in the next few days.

 

Proper nouns

One thing that most people will notice about me when I'm text or instant messaging is that I try to use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling … all of the time. I have always been this way and have often been called a "Grammar Nazi".

In short, this is impossible with dictation. I spent more time trying to edit text (placing the cursor, deleting a segment and only speaking a fragment of a sentence) to try and get everything grammatically correct. This was neither fast, efficient or easy. It didn't speed up text entry or make it any less frustrating than simply typing out a message. So something else I will have to get over in the upcoming days is my penchant for correctness and being grammatically proper when sending short, quick messages, tweets or any other form of text.

I have learned that the dictation software on Android hates proper nouns. You would think that common names would auto-correct to be capitalized. But they most certainly do not. On iOS, proper nouns are capitalized more often than not, but I have ran into a few that throw the dictation software off.

 

Punctuation

The other problem is punctuation. From what I can tell, iOS can handle just about any punctuation you can throw at it. Speak "quote" and it will insert a quotation mark. On Android, I have quickly learned that its punctuation abilities fall short of the competition. It is limited to inputting a period, comma, colon and semicolon. If you say, "hyphen" or "dash", the dictation will simply spell the words out, whereas iOS dictation will input the appropriate symbols. The same could be said of spacing. Speak "new line" to iOS and it works just as the return key on a keyboard. Speak the same words to Android dictation (in either Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean) and it will simply spell out "new line".

This is very frustrating from a functionality standpoint. Using iOS, I can easily take notes with proper punctuation, inserting new lines and using proper nouns. On Android, I cannot without the aid of the keyboard.

Also, as you can see depicted above, the dictation Android tends to be a bit finnicky sometimes. (Note: via Plume for Android in the top right corner.) It will input the words on a slight delay as you speak them. But sometimes it hangs and it makes you think it may have missed something you said. Last night, I thought it just missed "question mark", so I spoke it again and ended up with "question mark?". Again, very frustrating.

 

Words not in the built-in dictionary

What I have found in the short time using strictly dictation is that the software is surprisingly accurate, even with my distinct accent. This is a major improvement on both parts of Google and Apple. Rarely – if I'm speaking at a normal volume – does the software misunderstand what I say.

But there have been a few times where the software simply cannot get what I'm saying because it doesn't understand a word that isn't in its command of language. For example, I was at a coffee shop called Dilworth Coffee yesterday and for the life of me, I could not tell my friend where I was exactly. After about 10 or so tries, it input "dillworth". Out of frustration, I just deleted one "l" and hit send.

This could easily grow to be one of the most aggravating parts of this challenge, simply because if I were able to type words, I could save new ones to the dictionary. Without that ability, I'm totally at the mercy of its existing vocabulary.

 

Twitter

I typically use my phones for the majority of my social media activity. However, as you can see in the picture above, I was on Twitter a lot less than normal yesterday. And that could be directly tied to me being forced to use dictation.

To be honest, using Twitter and dictation isn't so bad. I can send a tweet almost effortlessly via voice input. In fact, I would go as far to say I enjoy it at times. But there are some problems, especially when it comes to Twitter. Much like what I explained above, Twitter usernames are not in the dictation vocabulary, which makes it virtually impossible to mention someone unless I am replying to an existing tweet from the person I want to mention.

Over the next six days, this could prove to be equally as frustrating as the above topic. Imagine trying to get dictation to input "@du57in" or "Bla1ze". Of course, I could just speak the letters and numbers and delete the spaces between them. But I feel as if that might be considered cheating … or bending the rules.

 

From the time I started the challenge yesterday morning to just a few minutes ago, I have become a little more comfortable with dictation. But I'm already learning some serious pitfalls of the technology. Neither iOS or Android dictation are nearly as robust as their desktop dictation counterparts and lack some of the implementation needed for serious, full-time use. That said, I recently found a (very long) list of iOS dictation commands that could take quite some time to learn but could also make the next week a lot easier on me.

Once again, feel free to leave any tips or sentiments in the comments section below. Any input is appreciated!