The State of Dictation on the Mac and iOS

As we are moving toward the release of iOS 9, OS X 10.11, and Dragon Dictate is about to get an upgrade, I've been looking lately a lot at how far along we've come with the ability to dictate to our devices.

I've long been a fan of dictation but also long felt an outsider in this regard. That isn't so true anymore. This morning I was sitting in a coffee shop and saw a few people dictating into their phones. I think it was the addition of dictation anywhere on our phones that has brought a lot of people in. This afternoon I made an informal poll of other geek friends, I'm hearing that many are using the built-in iOS dictation on at least a semi-regular basis. You should. It's faster and easier than typing.

That same informal poll, however, discloses that almost nobody dictates to their Macs. While Dragon Dictate remains in the lead over the built-in Mac OS dictation, I can report that the built-in Mac dictation continues to improve. It still exhibits strange behaviors on occasion but, If nothing else, it's a free way to find out if you want to dictate more and invest in Dragon Dictate.

While we are in much better shape than a few years ago, I still don't think dictation is for everyone. We haven't got to the point where you can just speak and have full confidence your words are being properly transcribed. On iOS, you still need an Internet connection for it to work. (Wouldn't it be nice if the next iPhone put dictation on the chip so you could dictate without an Internet connection?) Correcting blundered dictation is also still more difficult than it should be.

However, if you are the type that once in awhile just needs to get that first draft of something into your computer, dictation is now definitely up to the task.

Home Screens: Maury Hill

This week's home screen features Maury Hill (Twitter). Maury spends most of his time developing CRM tools for Windows at MetaStock but also happens to be a big Mac nerd. As Maury explained to me, he does Windows development from his retina MacBook and iOS devices via Jump Desktop. Go Maury! So, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

OmniFocusDrafts, and iThoughts. My brain could not relax without the ability to get things off my mind, view them when necessary, and just plain lay things out before my eyes. I also love using Overcast to discover all things Apple from MPU

I have to mention Due and the harassment it delivers, helping me to get the easy to ignore, day to day things done. What would I do if I forgot my pills or laundry?

I also have to confess I’m having an affair with Siri. I talk to it all day long on all of my devices, including the Watch. 

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

TweetBot and Reeder. I spend far too much time in these apps. Reeder is essential to stay up to date, but Tweetbot lets me peer into the lives of other geeks like me. I can also complain to app developers. 

Honestly, I wish there were Desert Golf scholarships when I went to school. I just need to delete that app. 

What app makes you most productive?

This is on the verge of becoming an OmniFocus review. I have to get things off my mind to stop thinking about them. Along with Siri, this app makes it easy. OmniFocus shows me tasks when I need to see them and thanks to Review mode, which I have never found in similar apps, I can prioritize projects and focus on what’s important now. 

Continuing to regurgitate others’ posts, Drafts is also wonderful. I love it’s widget, which allows me to dump the clipboard into a new draft and use it in searches or even for processing queries in DropBox files by one of my SQL Servers, returning query results, opened via its widget. I use Hygia to accomplish that. It is “Hazel” for Windows. 

The Apple Watch helps me stay off my phone and focus on what I should be doing, which is writing more bugs. 

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

WorkflowHazel, and Editorial. I read so much about these from MacSparky, MacDrifter, and Viticci, but I just never find the time to explore them. I think the fault rests on the shoulders of the awesome newborn boy my wife and I adopted last year. :) [That’s a pretty good reasy Maury. -Sparky]

What is the app you are still missing?

Not an app, but more Siri integration. I would like VoiceOver to be more reliable for reading out notifications, and I would love to tell Overcast to play specific podcasts, or have Workflow run specific tasks with my voice. 

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

My wife could give you an exact count. I don’t think the phone leaves my hand. I’m definitely an addict in need of a disconnect.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I heard somewhere that only 20% of the features you release are used by 80% of your users. It certainly is true of the fruits of my code, so I cannot blame Apple for not adding “power user” features. But I wouldn’t mind if the track pad feature for the iPad came back for the iPhone and if Hey Siri were accessible even when not on power. 

I’m a grown up Apple. Let me drain my battery at light speed and fumble the cursor around. Just have a setting to disable it for everyone else!

Thanks Maury.

The Waterfield Vitesse Messenger Bag

I bought my first Waterfield laptop bag seven years ago. Since then, I’ve been a regular customer. Waterfield is based in San Francisco and makes excellent, rugged cases for your Apple goodies. They’re attractive and they hold up overtime. (That seven year old bag is still in service for my daughter.) 

However, my purchases have always been limited to bags specifically made for specific laptops. Just recently I went for something bigger. I got one of the new Waterfield Vitesse Messenger bags. I’ve never used a messenger bag before but now that I’m using the smaller laptop, it makes sense. I wanted a bag the could carry my MacBook along with a few other odds and ends like an iPad, a bottle of water, and even a sweatshirt without going the full-on backpack route. I also wanted something that looked good enough that I could use it in a professional environment. This messenger bag is perfect for the task. 

There’s a large main compartment and a pocket inside the Laptop. There are also three pockets on the inside where I store extra batteries and cables. The bag isn’t overwhelming and slips over my shoulder just fine and yet still holds more gear than I expected. If you’ve used to messenger bag before, you know how convenient it is to slide it around to your back and get on with your day.

There are also front zipper pockets opening to an easily accessible large pocket for easy access. Inside that large pocket is a smaller pocket lined with scratch free material that can hold your phone or your glasses.

The cover closes with a simple closure that you can close in seconds but in my month of extended usages neve come unhooked accidentally. There’s a an adjustable nylon strap to throw it over your shoulder and also a leather handle. The bag material is waxed canvas and quite sturdy.

The bag looks nice enough that I can take it anywhere. I’m finding myself using it for client meetings and afternoon trips to Disneyland. Although I’m using it with the small retina Mac book, you could carry a larger computer in this bag if you wanted. The bag is 1.9 pounds and is 16“–18” x 13“ x 4”. You can purchase it with an optional cycling strap if you are a spinner. I expecting to get many years out of this new bag. You can learn more here.

MPU 273: Workflows with Jonathan Mann

This week's Mac Power Users features Song-A-Day's Jonathan Mann. Jonathan is a talented musician that can write a song in about the same time it takes me to get my keyboard turned on and find my sheet music. Jonathan does all of this with Apple technology and he explains the whole workflow. Jonathan also made jingles for our sponsors that we included in the show. My favorite was the TextExpander one.

Sponsor: Automatic

This week I'm pleased to welcome back Automatic as a MacSparky sponsor. Automatic is a device  that plugs into your car's OBD-II port. (Just about every car made since 1996 has one.) The Automatic then has access to your vehicle's data and connects via BlueTooth to your iPhone. It gives you tons of data and new and geeky ways to interact with your car. Just a few of the things you can do with Automatic are:

  • Get extremely accurate data about fuel efficiency, trip distance, gas used, and other performance metrics.
  • Get notifications when your car's fuel level is getting low.
  • Get explanations of any alarms or other events your car reports. No longer do you need to visit a mechanic when you get a cryptic light on your dashboard.
  • Detect when the vehicle has been in a significant accident and call you, your loved ones, and emergency support.
  • Get driving feedback when you are accelerating too fast, braking too hard, and otherwise doing silly things behind the wheel.

Automatic truly lets you geek out your ride. One of my frequent uses is to keep track of mileage for my work. When I finish any trip in my car, Automatic gives me a notification to mark the trip as work-related. (The notification even displays on my Apple Watch.) If I tap the button, Automatic flags the trip and I can view it through the free Automatic App or on the web. I liked it so much that I bought two more for my wife and daughter's cars. Having automatic in their cars gives me a notification if any of the car's sensors go off and also gets me a phone call if they are in an accident.

There is no subscription fee. Once you buy your Automatic, you're good to go. Moreover, they are giving 20% off to MacSparky readers. Use this link and the usual price of $100 drops to $80. I use my Automatic every time I step in my car. I bet you would too.

Disney's Star Wars Themed Expansion

One of the advantages of having a Disney blogger wife is that I get the inside scoop on goings-ons with the company that owns Star Wars, Marvel, and a few successful theme parks. This past weekend I attended the D23 convention in Anaheim and woke up way too early to get in line for the big keynote on live action films over the next few years. It was a lot of fun. I got to see J.J. Abrams, the Star Wars episode VII cast (including Harrison Ford), Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, and more.

They didn’t have much to add about Star Wars and weren’t ready to give us another trailer so instead, they gave us a cool movie poster and unveiled the fact that Disney is going to build 14-Acre Star Wars themed lands in Disneyland in California and Hollywood Studios in Florida. All we saw was concept art and a short video but it looks to be really fun. At several points during the presentation Bob Iger (Disney CEO) mentioned how the experience will be immersive. Not only will you go into a cantina, you’ll interact with the wretched hive of scum and villainy while you are there.

Having visited Universal’s Harry Potter World last year, I can’t help but feel that this immersive Star Wars experience is a direct response. Universal did such a great job with Harry Potter. It was the first time I was truly impressed with a non-Disney theme park and I’m sure Disney took notice. After the presentation I spoke with some Disney Imagineers and when I raised the issue of Universal’s Harry Potter you could see that they were more than a little “motiviated” to exceed it with Star Wars. Let’s hope that Disney corporate gives the Imagineers the budget and support they need to deliver.

Apple Watch Check In

I was putting on my Apple Watch this morning and thinking about how I’m using it now that I’m three months in. I’ve got several observations:

  • I still wear it every day. When I forget to put it on (rarely) I miss it.
  • The black rubber band is still just fine with me. I’ve worn it working in the yard and I’ve worn it at court and it doesn’t feel inappropriate in either place. I’ll probably buy an additional band at some point but right now I don’t feel any burning desire.
  • I was doing great with the fitness rings and then I got sick. The last three weeks or so I’ve been miserable with kidney stones. My fitness records went all to hell. I’m looking forward to getting those rings filled back up.
  • Battery life, shmattery life. I don’t even think about it. The watch always makes it through the day.
  • I also don’t think much about apps. Except for OmniFocus and Overcast, I’m not using any third party apps. I suspect that will change when we get watch OS 2.0.
  • I made this intricate set of watch faces when I first got the watch. I don’t use any of them except a minimalist version of Utility.
  • Notifications on my wrist is golden. I’m often in meetings but have many things going on. Keeping up by glancing at my wrist is unobtrusive and handy.
  • I find that I keep my phone in my pocket a lot more now that I’ve got the watch.
  • I already wrote about watch directions. All of that is still true.
  • Overall, my initial impressions haven’t changed. The Apple Watch, while not being essential, makes life for iPhone users a lot better.

Microsoft Translator

Despite having grown up in Southern California, my command of the Spanish language is pitiful. I try. My Mexican friends laugh at me. Then I try again. Given the fact that so many of my fellow Southern Californians speak Spanish exclusively, I really have no excuse. Nevertheless, where I should be Indiana Jones, I’m more like Marcus Brody.

As a result, I’m always on the lookout for a good translating application. You can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that my new favorite translation app doesn’t come from Google but instead Microsoft. The new Microsoft Translator for iOS is aces.

It is easy to use. You can input text via keyboard or dictation. Then the app speaks the text out oud in the language of your choice or prints it across the screen. They even have a nifty Apple watch application that I’ve used to communicate with Spanish speakers and it works. It’s a free application and if you spend any time trying to communicate in other languages, this can make a huge difference for you. I’m liking this new Microsoft.

Force Touch on the iPhone

I have not said much about a force touch for iPhone. However, recent news leaks make it seem inevitable. It looks very much like the next iPhone will have a force touch screen. I enjoyed this 9 to 5 Mac coverage about force touch on the iPhone a few days ago. All of this got me thinking about exactly how big a deal force touch will be on the iPhone.

At the beginning, at least, I expect it won’t be much of a deal at all. The feature will only be available on the newest iPhones so developers will know a majority of their users won’t even have force touch. Moreover, by its very nature, force touch feels like a feature for power users are much more than for everyday users. I even see this with my wife and her Apple Watch. Rarely does she think of using a force touch the screen when she’s trying to figure out how to make a feature work.

I think it will be the same on the iPhone, only more so. People are used to seeing icons that are tied to functions in their applications. Force touch features are hidden behind a hard press on the screen and a lot of people will never think about force touching when looking for a missing feature. I think application developers that start burying key features behind force touch will do so at their own peril.

Instead, I think for the first few years force touch is going to be very much a power user feature. It will let you do things faster but I think rarely will it allow you to do exclusive things that can’t be accomplished some other way. The example in the 9 to 5 Mac article about how force touching an application icon brings it to a particular screen is a perfect example of this. Alternatively, you could manually open the application and manually navigate to the screen but being able to do both of those steps with one force touch will be much nicer. It will be an improvement on the experience for those people who want to invest the time to figure it out and set their applications accordingly. That’s not everyone by a long stretch.

Maybe in a few years when this interface function is available on all iPhones it will become a bigger deal but my expectation is that initially us nerds will love force touch and a lot of other people won’t even realize it exists.

MPU 272: Mac-Based Small Business

This week's Mac Power Users features me talking about the steps I took to set up a small business when I left "the firm" to open my sole practitioner law practice. The last several months have been some of the most exhilarating of my life and I've picked up quite a few nerd tricks along the way.

Sponsor: OmniOutliner

My thanks go this week to OmniOutliner for sponsoring OmniOutliner is THE outlining application for your Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I use it all the time. As an example I'm planning out a complex contract for client this week. My client is a windows user but that didn't stop me from making a gorgeous outline in OmniOutliner and sending it to him in PDF. (OmniOutliner makes this really simple.) So today we did our phone call and he gave me feedback and I updated the outline as we spoke and then sent him the new version as PDF as soon as I hung up. Now I've got exactly what I need to proceed forward and my client thinks I'm the most "with it" guy on the planet. Don't you want your clients thinking that?

With OmniOutliner it actually takes work to make an ugly outline. The application also gets all the fundamentals right with easy outline creation and modification and solid syncing between devices using Omni's own OmniPresence syncing engine. Go learn more here and let them know you heard about it here. Thanks Omni.

Mac Power Users: Christina Warren and MPU Live

This week we've got twice the fun over at the Mac Power Users.

MPU 270: Workflows with Christina Warren

We've wanted Christina for a long time and it was really nice finally talking with her about her work as an Apple journalist and Apple Music. We use the backdrop of the Apple Earnings Call to discuss her workflows.

MPU 271: MPU Live - What's the Worse Thing That Could Happen?

We talk with Kent Newsome about working in a "locked down" office, we also discuss Amazon's Echo, listener travel tips, two factor authentication apps, OmniFocus workflows, sharing tasks, referenced photo libraries and answer listener questions on a variety of topics.

Get them while they are hot.

Sponsor: inShort

This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is is an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that lets you plan projects and processes graphically across all of your Apple devices. This brings a new paradigm to process and project planning and is absolutely worth checking out. 

One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment. I like to think of this as "nested" flowcharts and I think it's really smart. It's a great way to sort out a process in your own mind and then explain it to others when you're done. 

inShort is under constant development and the application has evolved a great deal in the last year as Apple has changed the design aesthetic of its operating systems. The Mac and iOS version s both look fantastic. Want to learn more? Read the developer's PDF

TJ Luoma on the 12" Retina MacBook

TJ Luoma went in to the Apple Store to buy a new MacBook Pro and ended up walking out with a 12" Retina MacBook. He loves it. One of the most interesting parts is that he prefers the MacBook's low-travel keyboard. I think keyboards are a personal thing, like the firmness of a mattress. I've grown accustomed to my MacBook's keyboard and don't think about it much. However, I still prefer the more conventional keyboard on my iMac. Otherwise, I'd agree  with TJ across the board. The 12" MacBook is powerful enough for what I do and when you have a computer this light, you can easily take it about anywhere.

Game Recommendation: Prune

I've got somewhat quirky tastes when it comes to iOS games. My favorites games aren't too stressful or necessarily too fast. Maybe it's because I'll play a game to unwind, but Alto's Adventure, Zen Bound, and Monument Valley are right up my alley.

I was noodling around in the App Store a few days ago and discovered Prune. In Prune you grow a tree and the object is to prune the tree in a way which allows the right limbs find sunlight and bloom flowers. I love this game. The levels get increasingly more difficult but nothing (so far) is overwhelming. If you get hung up on a level, after a certain number of tries the game just offers to go on. I've even saved one of my trees as my lock screen on my iPad. I also like the pricing model. I paid $4 for the game and there are no nagging in-app purchase requests. Two thumbs up.

Add an Hour to Your Mac's Battery Life with Safari

Battery Box ran the numbers comparing Chrome to Safari on their MacBooks and found using Safari adds over an hour to your battery life. We had the same experience in my house when my wife was having trouble with her 13" MacBook Pro's battery. I switched her to Safari and the problems went away. (In fairness, she also stopped using Flash.) I know that Chrome has some whizzy features that aren't in Safari, but the increased battery life plus the deep iCloud integration make Safari my browser of choice.

Clearly, preserving battery life on all of its devices is a high priority for Apple. I'd venture to say that because Apple is the hardware vendor, preserving battery life always will be higher on Apple's list than Google's. (via Daring Fireball.)