For Mac users who talk to their computers, there’s a glimmer of hope — a speech-recognition program with select-by-saying capabilities anywhere they can type. MacSpeech’s iListen 1.5.2 was a bit of a disappointment (
January 2003 ), but version 1.6.1 boasts some notable changes. iListen now lets you control your Mac with natural speech, and unlike IBM’s
ViaVoice ( ; April 2002), it doesn’t require that you use a proprietary word processor for editing. This last capability is a huge usability accomplishment that no other program offers.
But iListen still has some rough edges. Due to limitations of Mac OS X, it isn’t completely hands-free, so it’s unsuitable if a disability restricts your hands or arms. And sadly, if you use OS 9, you get only iListen 1.5.5, which is merely version 1.5.2 with a few bug fixes.
As with any voice-recognition program, you must train iListen to recognize your voice before you can use it. iListen walks you through this easy process with its series of included training texts. (The program can also analyze your documents to learn your vocabulary.) We tested the software in OS X 10.2.6, using an 800MHz 15-inch flat-panel iMac G4 with 768MB of RAM. With the supplied microphone and USB adapter, our accuracy after reading the first training text was 89 percent. The more texts you read, the better recognition becomes.
If you dictate a lot and need a way to easily transfer audio recordings to your computer, you may be disappointed to know that our initial accuracy with an Olympus DS-2000 digital recorder was only 78 percent.
Errors are inevitable, and MacSpeech has made big improvements to the program’s correction process. Correction is now hands-free, and iListen 1.6.1 includes a phonetic editor to deal with unusually spelled or pronounced words, such as iChat and AirPort. However, correcting mistakes can cause scrambled text, and although the included manuals offer preventative measures, they don’t cover ways to deal with errors after they occur.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
iListen 1.6.1 is moving in the right direction; its support for digital recorders and select-by-saying capability demonstrate this. But if you run OS 9 or need truly hands-free computing, you should look elsewhere.