Nuance Software, makers of Dragon Naturally Speaking for the PC and the iPhone, has purchased MacSpeech. MacSpeech was voted Best of Show at MacWorld 2008, but that’s not saying a whole lot, because there just aren’t any other products like it for the Mac. But then again, there really isn’t any other product like Dragon Naturally Speaking, either.
One thing that has existed in all our future computer dreams is true voice-activated software. We can have voice-activated dialing on our cell phones, but none of us can walk into an elevator and say “Floor 18” ala Star Trek. But when it comes to Dragon Naturally Speaking, we are closer to getting there than we ever have been before, it’s just not going to be working in an elevator. A person using Dragon Naturally Speaking on a computer can provide simple commands to direct the program to do what the user wants, including editing a document (“delete that”) and opening menus (“open file…open new”). The latest two incarnations of Dragon Naturally Speaking (v. 9 and now v. 10) are almost perfect out of the box, allowing even a new user to get the product up and running effectively in a short amount of time.
MacSpeech’s “Dictate” program was never quite there, although the product is better than nothing at all. Having it owned by Nuance will likely lead to large leaps in development, bringing it up to par with the current Dragon Naturally Speaking product rather quickly. And that can only be good news for everyone. If Dragon Naturally Speaking can work on the iPhone, then why can’t it work on the Mac? With MacSpeech in the stable, all things are possible for Nuance now.
And to think, a few short years ago, Dragon Naturally Speaking was in limbo, as its original owner faced charges of impropriety in financial dealings, and was effectively dissolved through a bankruptcy. Scansoft purchased the product, but it sat in limbo for several years as they did not have the means to develop the product. They eventually merged with Nuance, taking their line of optical character recognition software like Visioneer (PaperPort), TextBridge, and OmniPage to a whole new level. With renewed purpose, Nuance/Scansoft was finally able to continue development on Dragon Naturally Speaking.
The company is now a bit of a powerhouse in the disability services industry, where they have had their hands in the development of Kurzweil in addition to their optical character recognition programs. My academic environment uses an awful lot of Nuance/Scansoft products in providing services to disabled students.
With Nuance grabbing up another piece of the market, this can only bode well for everyone, even the non-disabled. Voice recognition could now conceivably be in wide-spread use in the next few years, if the product continues to be developed. I only see good things from such a joining of efforts.