One business productivity trick that's often overlooked is integrating speech recognition software into your workflow. Speech recognition can make life easier for small businesses by letting you multitask using your voice instead of your keyboard and then converting your spoken words into text documents. Creative ideas sometimes flow more easily when spoken aloud, especially if software can transcribe your thought process.
Speech recognition software is not only a time saver; it's sometimes a job saver as well. If you or anyone in your company has accessibility issues, RSI or other disabilities, this software can retain and enhance productivity.
Depending on the software, you can use speech recognition to speak commands to your computer, dictate documents, open, edit and send emails, and more. Some speech recognition software includes predictive text technology that allows the software to adapt to your usage style so programs become faster and more accurate the more you use them.
The methodology of speech recognition takes some getting used to because you have to speak clearly to avoid translation mistakes. The fewer mistakes, the less time spent at the keyboard cleaning up your text. Most programs require you to speak your punctuation, so that in addition to full sentences, you must punctuate your narrative with verbal grammatical commands like Period, Comma, Exclamation Point, and Open and Close Parenthesis. These techniques, alongside the specific conventions of each software package, take time and concentration to master. You also must work in a relatively quiet environment so that the software doesn't pick up extraneous noise.
Choosing a speech recognition software
The software comes in many forms: desktop, web and mobile. When searching for speech recognition apps, consider accuracy, ease of use, level of speech comprehension and cost. At the most basic level, the software should be accurate in recognizing the words you speak and let you insert formatting options like punctuation, symbols, and special characters.
Some packages allow you to interact with web browsers for searching, reading news and posting to social media. Others include training features that help programs get familiar with your voice and might even allow for multiple voice profiles. Depending on the complexity of your business, you may want a package that lets you create customized voice commands or translate audio files from phone calls and meetings.
Look for compatibility not only with your OS — desktop, mobile or web — but also with the apps you plan to use the text with: Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat, Apple native software and email apps. If you go back and forth from desktop to mobile, choose a package that is compatible with all the platforms you use. Note that Mac, Windows, iOS and Android all have some limited speech features built in for free.
While the terms speech recognition and voice recognition are often used interchangeably, they differ in that speech recognition – also called automatic speech recognition (ASR) – specifically refers to translating spoken language into text, while voice recognition more broadly relates to speaker identification based on voice characteristics as opposed to content.
Built-in speech-to-text software options
For simple tasks, look to your operating system: Both Mac and Windows offer some speech to text functions.
The first line of action when getting started with desktop speech recognition on the Mac is Apple's built-in Dictation feature, available in recent versions of macOS and iOS and translates your spoken word into text. Access it by asking Siri to turn on Dictation for you or set it up yourself in the Preferences. Though not designed for longer documents, it's great for quickly dashing off a short note or email. An Enhanced Dictation option lets you use Dictation offline and for longer periods of time. Apple Dictation is also available the iPhone or iPad by tapping the microphone icon on the digital keyboard.
Look no further than the Windows OS to find built-in speech recognition software. You can access Windows Speech Recognition in Windows 10 through Cortana, but you can also use previous versions of the Windows OS for this function. To activate the feature via voice activation, just say, Start Listening to start the microphone. The software can do everything from launch apps, write a document in Microsoft Word as you dictate, or compose or reply to emails. When you're done, you can simply say Stop Listening.
Both iOS and Android have built-in features for voice dictation and transcription for translating speech to text. You can enable your iPhone's Voice Dictation feature in the General Keyboard control to just tap the Microphone button and begin speaking. With Android, depending on the installed OS flavor, you can set up speech recognition with the Language and Input setting. Built-in digital assistants on all the platforms, such as Siri on iOS and Mac and Cortana on Windows, Android and iOS, can also assist with short speech to text dictation.
Third-party speech recognition and dictation software
If you want to branch out to third party offerings, here are some of the best speech recognition and dictation apps for desktop, web and mobile.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Mac and Windows Desktop)
The desktop version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been on the market in various forms and platforms for over 20 years, facilitating speech-to-text and text-to-speech. Just talk at your normal speed and watch your words appear on the screen. The more you use it, the more accurate it gets. NaturallySpeaking comes in a variety of versions and professional specialties ranging from Dragon Home ($100) to pro versions for $500. In addition to dictating your documents with a variety of microphones, you can use your voice for edits and to apply formatting like bold, underline, and capitals and work with abbreviations and numbers. The software also facilitates control of your computer by letting you verbally launch applications, and switch between windows, create and send email, and search the web. The software integrates with Microsoft Word and Output, WordPerfect, Notepad, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.
Braina (Windows Desktop/Android and iOS)
Braina uses artificial intelligence to perform a variety of functions on your Windows PC, including voice commands and converting speech to text and back. As a digital assistant, the app can search the web, play songs, open or search files, and do mathematical calculations. Braina's companion Android and iOS companion apps let you control your PC over your home network. In addition to voice transcription, Braina can read text aloud so you can listen to ebooks, emails and web content.
A lite version with basic features, including voice recognition is free. One- and three-year subscriptions are $39 and $79 respectively. Or you can buy a lifetime subscription for $159.
Google Docs Voice Typing (Web)
If you often use Google Apps within the Chrome browser, check out Google Docs Voice Typing, a free dictation and transcription app. It's as easy to use as firing up a Google Document and enabling the feature from the Tools menu. Then, just click the little microphone icon that will record and transcribe what you say in real time. While voice typing, you can use commands to edit your document such as add punctuation and formatting, change text color and fonts, align and create lists, and even add and edit tables.
With Speechnotes, all you have to do is launch your Chrome browser, enter the Speechnotes URL, and you're in business. The web app, with its clean interface, resembles a plain notepad. Just click the microphone icon and start talking. When you're done with your recorded sequence, click the icon again. You can then save your transcribed notes or hear them played back.
The app has some built-in smart features such as Auto Save to save the document in real time, Export to Google Drive (in the cloud), download as a document to your computer, or email or print your note. Google servers use algorithms to translate your speech, and send the results back to Speechnotes, which stores all data on your computer, through your browser. Speechnotes does not control your computer by voice or operate with other software packages.
Go Transcribe (Desktop/Android and iOS)
Go Transcribe is a cloud-based service powered by artificial intelligence. Just upload an audio file to the platform from any device and the service automatically transcribes it into a document. From there, you can save, export, play, rewind and forward it. You can use the online editor to make any corrections or notations and locate specific parts of the audio by clicking on words on the transcription.
You can test out the app by uploading a file of 10 minutes before deciding whether to sign on for the service, which supports over a dozen languages. A 10-minute file took four minutes to transcribe. There are four plans: Pay as you go (22 cents per minute); individual ($48 per month or 20 cents per minute); Business ($96 per month or 16 cents per minute); and Corporate ($420 per month or 14 cents per minute).
Voice Notebook (Web)
Voice Notebook is a Google Chrome web app that transcribes spoken words and audio files into text. It can also extract speech from HTML5 audio and video files and YouTube clips. If you want to dictate or transcribe audio or video for more than 15 minutes, you must register or log in. A user account lets you use voice commands (which you must set up) to control the Voice Notebook recording process. Whenever you say a voice command phrase during recording, it is processed immediately.
Dragon Anywhere (Android and iOS)
Even when you're on the go, you still have to get your work done. Dragon Anywhere, the mobile version of the desktop Dragon NaturallySpeaking gives you similar functionality through your smartphone. Its dictation features let you create, format, and share documents of any length from your device. You can create and add specialized words related to your profession, use form-based templates to fill out forms, and import and export to and from secure cloud-based document-sharing apps like Dropbox or Evernote, or sync with the desktop versions of your document.
Dragon Anywhere is available via subscription and costs $15 for a single month, $40 for three months, and $150 for 12 months. A seven-day free trial automatically converts to a month-to-month subscription.
Speech Recogniser (iOS)
If your aim is to quit spending so much time keyboarding, you can accomplish that goal with Speech Recogniser, an iPhone speech-to-text app. It features a minimalist interface with easily accessible dictation, translation and sharing tools. You can use the app to tweet, post to Facebook, copy text into other apps as well as translate your speech into 40 languages and hear that translation read back to you. You can download Speech Recogniser for $9.99.
Voice Texting Pro (iOS)
This easy, free app turns your speech into text as you speak, and lets you edit your mistakes out, and instantly share text with social networks, email or paste from the clipboard into any app that accepts text input. The app uses the language from the default location setting of your device, though you can change it if you want.
ListNote Speech-to-Text Notes (Android)
ListNote is a free, versatile speech-to-text app that uses Google Voice Search to record your voice directly as text — it does not save an audio recording and all output is stored on your device. You can edit the text and insert it into other documents or share notes via SMS, email and other text-friendly apps. Notes are indexed for fast searching. You can color code, star and organize notes by category. You can even password protect notes with AES encryption and back them up to an SD card. Other cool features include a Time to Breathe option that lets you specify a waiting period before ending speech input.
Just Press Record (iOS)
Just Press Record for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch is a combo recording and transcription app that syncs your speech via iCloud. Start recording with a single tap via built-in or external mic or AirPods. A transcription engine transcribes your words into searchable text, and lets you edit, format and punctuate transcriptions, which are stored within the audio file. When you're done, save the file to your library and store it locally or on iCloud. Enhance the quality of your recordings by using external mics and save to popular file formats with quality of up to 96kHz/24-bit. A companion Mac app lets you record and view your iOS transcript, but it does not generate a transcript. The app costs $4.99.
Voice Assistant (iOS)
For those on the go, Voice Assistant is an easy speech recognition app that lets you talk and then immediately view the resulting text in up to 30 languages. You can share your text to a variety of apps including Pages, Evernote, Doc2Go, DropBox and QuickOffice, or compose email or SMS messages, and dictate updates to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. This intelligent app gets more accurate over time and offers auto grammar correction. You need a network connection — either Wi-Fi or cellular — for the app to work.