Make a Note of It: Speech Recognition Apps Are Getting Better

April 17, 2013

Make a Note of It: Speech Recognition Apps Are Getting Better


Science fiction writers have long imagined a future where we simply voice-command our devices, cars or spaceships. The technology isn’t quite there yet, despite Apple’s best efforts with Siri, its digital personal assistant. But our smartphones and tablets are getting quite good at turning the spoken word into text. This app technology has the power to turn your mobile device into a powerful writing tool, without your having to lift a stylus or type on a touch screen.

Dragon Dictation, a simple speech-to-text app that is free on iOS, is probably the best known. On the left of its main page is a list of Notes you’ve previously entered; on the right is a larger section where you enter or view text inside notes. At the top of the main section is a red Record button. The app records for as long as necessary, showing the audio level of your voice as a graph at the bottom of the screen. Tapping anywhere on the screen turns off recording, or you can adjust the app to automatically detect when you’ve stopped speaking.

The app sends a digital sample of your speech over the Internet to do the speech recognition, so it requires a wireless connection. But this process is speedy, and the app soon displays your transcribed text in the main window. Naturally, it doesn’t get all the words right, perhaps because you mumbled or made some other mistake, but you may be surprised at how accurate it is over all.For example, it successfully transcribed “I read the red book,” even though “read” and “red” are pronounced the same. Fixing or editing text is easy. Tap on a word, and the app gives you the option to delete it or bring up an on-screen keyboard for manual corrections. When you are satisfied, the app can send the text by e-mail or share it on Facebook or as a Twitter post.

Although the app works very well, I’ve found that using a plug-in microphone with it provides the best speech recognition.

The need to be connected to the remote recognition system could lead to expensive network charges if you use the app frequently over 3G or 4G.

Listnote Speech/Text Notepad is a similar Android app, available as an ad-supported free download. Like Dragon, the app’s main interface revolves around your list of previous notes. These can be organized by categories. To create a speech note, you tap on the large Speech Recognition button at the top of the app, then speak. Translated text quickly appears in the relevant space in a new Note section on the screen.

If the text wasn’t quite what you said, tap on the arrow icon near the text and select from a short list of other guesses. Alternatively, you can edit the text manually by long-pressing on it. Conveniently, the app lets you pause in midspeech and offers a Continue Speech button.

Among its weaknesses is a confusing menu system; at first, you may not realize how to add a note in a category, and it is not obvious that you must press the big Speech Recognition box to begin recording.

Android’s speech recognition can also be quirky. For example, I tried dictating lyrics to the classic British song “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside,” thinking the words would confuse the app. But I omitted the word “oh” from a verse, and yet the app inserted it for me anyway.

A different speech-to-text app on iOS is the free PaperPort Notes. This is a much more sophisticated notes-managing app that can also handle embedded photos and hand-scribbled notes. It also has “image to text” functions to recognize printed text, but only if you sign up for a free account.

The app has complex editing powers, like embedding faux Post-it notes, and you can change the color of text. With all these functions, PaperPort will probably appeal to students or business users.

The app does a good a job of recognizing speech, and I really wanted to love it, but it’s tricky to use. The interface isn’t intuitive, and it’s easy to accidentally brush a part of the screen that activates one of the controls.

Apple, Google and Microsoft all now offer direct speech-to-text recognition in their mobile operating systems, and you can use those features wherever there is an option to type in text. Apple’s is perhaps the most intuitive to use, although Google has put a similar function into Android. It’s easy to forget your devices have this functionality built in, and it’s worth exploring how reliable or useful it can be for you.

Quick Call

The popular and free document viewer app Documents by Readdle, for managing documents, annotating PDF files and other actions, is now available for the iPhone. It previously was available only on the iPad.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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