Apple

Use your words: Dictating emails, notes, and more with iOS 7

Note taking, email writing, and tweeting with your voice? Yes, you can do that and more with the dictation features in iOS 7.

Dictation in iOS 7

Since iOS 5, Apple has included a dictation feature in iOS (and has moved this same feature over to the Mac desktop as of OS X Mountain Lion). Despite this feature being included on all iOS devices these days, many users either don't know about or don't use on a regular basis. There are many uses for the dictation feature: from taking notes, to speaking your emails, to using your voice to write a text message or enter a search query.

In this article, I'll show you how to set up the dictation feature in iOS and use it to type with your voice instead of your fingers. I'll also give you some tips and tricks for speaking into your iOS device for maximum clarity.

Enabling and configuring dictation

To enable dictation on your iOS 7 device, perform the following steps:

  1. Navigate to Settings | General | Siri
  2. Flip the Siri button to ON (Figure A)

Figure A

Figure A

Enabling Siri also enables the dictation feature of iOS.

Even if you don't wish to use the Siri assistant functionality, enabling this feature is required in order to use the speech-to-text functionality in the operating system.

The next item that you'll need to set is the language that you'll be using while dictating. Setting the correct language will ensure that the dictation feature works properly for the language that you'll be speaking, adding appropriate character markers, and recognizing the correct word spelling.

To set the language for Siri and the dictation feature, perform the following steps:

  1. Navigate to Settings | General | Siri
  2. Tap Language
  3. Tap the language that you'll be speaking from the list of options presented (Figure B

Figure B

Figure B

The dictation feature and compatibility with your language is controlled by your selected preference in this section.

Note that if you want to dictate a different language than what is selected, then you'll need to revisit this section and select that language in order for the dictation feature to properly recognize your speech.

Using voice dictation to type

Almost anywhere that you can type using the iOS keyboard, you can use dictation for entering information into both iOS and third-party applications. This means that you can compose emails, tweets, text messages, Safari searches, and more using your voice.

When voice dictation is available, a small microphone will appear to the left of the spacebar. Tapping this button will enter you into dictation mode.

In dictation mode, your keyboard will disappear and youll be presented with a view of an amplitude wave that represents your voice. The louder you speak into the microphone, the larger the wave will appear (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

The wave gives a nice visual representation of your voice as a feedback mechanism during your dictation.

This view will appear while you're dictating into the text field. It will not automatically stop when you're done speaking. Instead, you must tap the "Done" button when you're finished. The keyboard will re-appear, and you'll see a small activity loading indicator in the text field where the dictation will appear once iOS has finished decoding your speech and turning it into text.

After a few seconds, what you've spoken will be visible in the text field. The dictation feature in iOS has autocorrection, just like the native keyboard does. If a word has multiple spellings, or it doesn't think that it got the speech quite right, then the word will have a blue underline. Tapping on this blue underline will give you options to correct the text if its not correct by default (Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D

The autocorrection functionality will give you a few options if it thinks the word you've spoken wasn't correctly recognized.

Speaking tips and tricks

Dictation is fast and easy to use, and it keeps you from hunting and pecking to get your message across on your iOS device. Below are some tips and tricks to make this process a bit easier and more responsive with your voice:

  • When dictating, hold your microphone about a foot away from your mouth while speaking. Remember that the microphone is located on the bottom of your iOS device.
  • For better speech recognition in multiple environments (including noisy rooms), try using a Bluetooth headset or EarPods.
  • Speak clearly. You don't need to speak slowly, but words are spoken clearly will go a long way to ensuring clarity in the dictation output.
  • Speak in 30 second or less increments. The dictation feature in iOS will send your voice to Apple's servers to decode what you're saying. Keeping your dictations short will help ensure that this round-trip happens quicker, especially over cellular connections.
  • Before sending your dictated text in an email, tweet, text message, or other social network, ensure that your text is correct by giving it a quick read-over. The dictation functionality works flawlessly most of the time, but sometimes it can get menial things incorrect.
  • You can use emoticons, punctuation, and other acronyms in your dictation. To see the full list of available dictation items, visit Apple's support page for Mac dictation — but skip down to the section on "Detailed list of Dictation commands," as all of the dictation features available on the Mac are also available on iOS.

Do you use the iOS 7 dictation feature or another application that provides dictation, such as Dragon Dictation? Have you had problems with the dictation feature in iOS 7, or has it worked flawlessly for you? Let us know in the comments below.

About Cory Bohon

Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite te...

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