OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Dictation

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

As you can see, Dictation in Mountain Lion isn’t exactly flawless.

There are understandably a lot of people who are disappointed that Siri — Apple’s iconic virtual helper for iOS — hasn’t taken Mountain Lion as an opportunity to make her debutante debut on the Mac. Instead, like the iPad, we have to settle for Dictation.

By default in Mountain Lion, Dictation works in any text entry field and can be triggered by hitting the Function key twice. This shortcut can be changed under the “Speech and Dictation” panel in System Preferences to one of four preset shortcuts; curiously, it defaults to pressing the Function key twice even if your Mac keyboard doesn’t have a Function key, which can be confusing at first. You can also trigger Dictation by selecting it under the “Edit” dropdown in a document’s menu bar.

However you go about it, once Dictation starts,  a bubble containing an oscillating purple microphone will appear on screen, cueing you to speak. After you’re done dictating, you can hit the Function key again or click “Done” to shoot the waveform of your voice off to Apple’s servers for processing. In the matter of a second — usually instantaneously — Cupertino will crunch the recording of your voice and transcribe it into text.

In our testing, Dictation works about as well as it does on the iPhone or iPad in ideal conditions.

In our testing, Dictation works about as well as it does on the iPhone or iPad in ideal conditions. Using our 2012 MacBook Air in a quiet room, we got about the same success rate on sample phrases as we did on our iPhone or iPad.

So it works, which is no surprise: Dictation’s probably the most solid aspect of Siri right now, which is why Apple is comfortable shipping it even on devices it doesn’t think are “ready” for Siri proper. Unfortunately, under less-than-ideal conditions, Dictation seems to work more poorly than it does on iOS devices.

The problem seems to be one of distance and background noise. As we said, we got great Dictation results on a 2012 MacBook Air… but that machine is one that we were using from less than two feet away and is virtually silent thanks to its solid-state drive. The same test phrase parsed by a 2009 iMac about three feet away with spinning fans and physical hard drive gave us poorer results. Likewise, because you hold a Mac further away from your mouth than an iPhone or even an iPad, Dictation on the Mac seems more prone to errors based upon background noise than it does under iOS. That’s understandable, but it’s still a practicality to consider.

Ultimately, Dictation seems more dispensable on a Mac than it is on an iPhone or iPad. Every Mac has a a physical keyboard, and for most people, that’s going to trump dictation for speed, accuracy and convenience. On an iPhone or iPad, though, Dictation’s usually a speedier way to get your thoughts across than using the on-screen keyboard. If you’re comfortable typing, Dictation is likely a feature you’ll try a few times and then forget about until you accidentally hit the shortcut twice.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

Dictation’s control panel in System Preferences allows you to change the shortcut.

We’re still glad to have it though. Quibbles aside, Dictation’s a lovely addition to Mountain Lion, and it’s well integrated into the core of the system. Even if you don’t use it, Dictation really is a killer accessibility feature. The physically and visually impaired will love Mountain Lion Dictation, as will those who never quite got comfortable with typing. Starting with OS X 10.7, Apple has been making a concerted effort to make the Mac more accessible to the kinds of customers who embraced the iPad even if they had never really liked using a computer before; Dictation is another lovely refinement that is helping make OS X the most user friendly PC operating system around.

Dictation really is a killer accessibility feature, and another lovely refinement that is helping make OS X the most user friendly PC operating system around.

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Related
  • Clem_E

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

  • brownlee

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

    We have this functionality, but it isn’t working for some reason. We’ve got our tech team coming. Soon!

  • FatSquirrel

    None of the pages seem to be working at all.

  • joewaylo

    I can see GateKeeper being the most annoying feature introduced to Mountain Lion. This reminds me of Windows Vista. “Permission to run blahblahblah” of a third party program. Vista kept freezing my computer every time I ran a non-microsoft product.

  • Kalvin Chan Loc

    Multiple monitor support still sucks. Fullscreen mode support wasn’t what I expected, as the other monitor still turns into a useless grey screen when going into fullscreen mode on the other.

  • John Owen

    WHY would Apple take our RSS reader support our of Safari????? I try to load the Cult of Mac feed and it takes me to Mail…I HATE that!!!!!

  • Edwin Torres

    Glad to see that the dictionary has been updated… :)

  • Edwin Torres

    Since safari got an update, has the lag that has been reported for the retina MBP while scrolling been fixed?

  • ddevito

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

  • MC Pearl

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

  • RadTech5000

    I can’t wait to upgrade my new Retina MacBook Pro tonight, super excited! :)

  • extra_medium

    I’d much rather be able to use my TV as a wireless second display than to duplicate my desktop. Using two of my screens to show the same thing simultaneously seems like a waste of a screen to me. It would be nice to be able to get some work done (play games) on the thunderbolt display while content streams on the TV, unrelated to what I’m doing.

    Also, if all it does is mirror your desktop why does the article mention that it only works for “certain types of streaming” content. What doesn’t work? What does work?

  • trexuphigh

    As a customer I love it. As a support tech, I’m scared. This was the easiest OS upgrades I’ve ever done. I started the download, went for coffee, after coffee started the installer, went out, returned in the evening, logged in. Done. Wow. The USB installer is much easier to make than a Windows PE environment, works better, and his more feature rich. So far so good. One disappointment is waiting for facebook integration, why wait for iOS6? Oh Apple, you so eccentric.

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    It’s a great feature until it is though :)

  • Ed_Kel

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

    Could you elaborate on the “bugs” you’re waiting to be cleaned up? This is the smoothest upgrade I’ve ever done on my Mac – Period. I would highly suggest upgrading; it’s everything that Lion wasn’t…

  • Ed_Kel

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

  • Greg

    Good stuff John, it must have taken a while to put this article together. Thanks!

  • Tallest_Skil

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    Consider them completely ignored.

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    On the contrary, I own an iMac running Lion (although Lion was a waste of money, Snow leopard was my all time desktop OS fav).

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    Fuck off and die you stupid fat asshole troll.

    I own more Apple products than you.

  • johnboyhanna

    Why is it a 3rd party app like Air Parrot can get Airplay to work on pre 2011 Macs but Apple won’t? One feature I was really looking forward to with this OS

  • johnboyhanna

    Also really missing the battery time option on the top bar, only % is an option to toggle on and off, not as useful as time, hope this gets fixed in an update.

  • Tallest_Skil

    I own more Apple products than you.

    So zero, then.

  • Ossiann

    Safari in iOS 6 doesn’t have a unified location field! You got that wrong.

  • site7000

    “Unfortunately, once you save a document to the iCloud, there’s no easy way to browse through your files outside of the app you saved it in, nor is there an easy way to, say, drag documents you’d like to keep synced into the iCloud from your desktop into a Dropbox or iDisk-style “syncing” folder.”

    This is bizarre. Isn’t the goal of a user interface design to make content more easily accessible and applications invisible? I don’t get this.

  • Alfred2612

    From the article: “AirPlay Mirroring will help Macs to make an even bigger dent in business environments than they currently have: instead of an expensive projector, all a board meeting needs is a TV, a Mac and a $99 box.”

    Cool feature, but I’ve been doing this for years giving presentations in boardrooms. All I need is a VGA/HDMI out cable and a TV with a VGA/HDMI in socket (which is most TVs nowadays). No $99 box needed. Done it many many times. :)

    And OSX looks GORGEOUS on a big screen TV!

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    Furthermore, I’m irritated by Apple’s decision to start rolling out OS upgrades yearly. If the cheangelog is going to look like this then they are really just charging you more for the same amount of changes but in smaller chunks. I like it when I’m excited by new OSX releases, but I feel like one every year is going to make the change log much less exciting.

    If I hadn’t worked so hard to get Lion working on my iMac right now, I might update…. but I did, and I can’t afford to have Airport, Safe Mode and Finder crashing problems again… I’d probably rip my hair out.

  • Stoffe_C

    Another nice Airplay feature incase youve missed it (should work on every mac model).
    If you press the “alt” key and leftklick the volume control icon you can choose to output the sound to Airplay enabled devices. No need for airfoil anymore :)

  • Tallest_Skil

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    And you’re downright stupid. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • RadTech5000

    I’ve had a chance to play around with Mountain Lion for about a week now on my new Retina MacBook Pro and find I’m loving it! Power Nap is awesome and I feel so sorry for those of you who don’t have it. I use Messages a lot and I find the new Notifications to be a very nice as well. I think many of the small things they added of fixed really make you fell like this is a very polished OS and I couldn’t be happier. Way to go Apple you should be very proud. =)

  • coolman1081

    No mention of Game Center?

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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