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Use voice recognition on the Mac

Date: 21st October 2011     

The iPhone 4S has put voice recognition in the spotlight and it is as if Apple has just invented it. Of course not, it has been around for many years. It is even on your Mac. Yes, voice recognition has been on your desktop computer and laptop for quite some time. Do you use it? Do you switch applications, create emails and open your address book by speaking to your Mac? Do you even know how to use voice recognition?

It is a bit of an ignored feature that is there, but is hardly ever used. However, it is worth experimenting with and you might find that it is quite useful. It can also be quite amusing too and you can say to your Mac "Tell me a joke." It will reply with "Knock, knock..." seriously, it really does say that!

In order to use voice commands on your Mac you need to set it up. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences, Speech and then the Speech Recognition tab. Turn on speakable items. The Mac can listen continuously for commands or only when the Esc key is held down. It's up to you which mode you prefer. You can also choose to require a keyword before speaking a command Star Trek like, so you would say "Computer, open Address Book." Again, it's up to you whether you need this or not. If you are in a quiet room then you may not need to alert the Mac with "Computer" every time you want to give it a command. On the other hand, if some mischevious person is likely to sneak up behind you and shout "Delete All" it might be useful to have a keyword to activate voice recognition.

Apple Mac voice recognition

On the Commands tab you can choose the commands sets that you can use. These are categories of commands, so you could use commands that involve Address Book, such as looking up contacts, switching between applications that are running and so on. You could say, for example, "Switch to Mail" and the Mac would bring the Mail app to the front if it is minimised or hidden behind other windows.

Apple Mac voice recognition

Now that you have turned on voice recognition, there should be a small round widget on the desktop. This is used to provide some feedback and you can see the microphone volume level change as you speak, whether the Mac is listening, replies and so on.

So what can you say? Try these: Close this window, copy this to the clipboard, get my mail, hide this application, insert today's date, log me out, make new item, make this into a sticky note, minimise this window, move page down, move page to bottom, move page to top, move page up, open a document, open my browser, paste the clipboard here, quit this application, save this document, start screen saver, what day is it, what time is it, and tell me a joke.

This is not the full list and you should experiment with voice commands. For example, "Switch to Mail" is not on the list above, yet it works, so just try various commands and see what happens.

It has to be said that the voice recognition is not in the same league as Siri on the iPhone 4S, but maybe that's just my British accent. I sometimes had to say things two or three times before it was recognised. However, you might have better luck. It's fun to try it though.