And now, the NatSpeak Frequently Asked Questions:
“Does NaturallySpeaking work on a Mac?” Yes, but only when the Mac is running Windows and you’re using a U.S.B. headset adapter. It works fantastically in Boot Camp and fast enough in VMware Fusion, an emulator program.
Of course, it might be simpler just to buy MacSpeech Dictate, a Mac program that uses the same Dragon recognition technology. The current version is fast and accurate, but it lags behind NatSpeak in features and power; it doesn’t even let you make corrections by voice, and therefore the accuracy never improves. But a 1.2 version, with voice correction and voice spelling, is in testing now.
“Can I transcribe interviews with it?” No. NatSpeak knows only one person’s voice: yours. It also requires a clean audio signal, like the one from a headset mike half an inch from your mouth.
“Can I dictate with a wireless Bluetooth earpiece?” Yes. In fact, version 10 greatly expands the number of compatible earpiece models (18 so far, listed at nuance.com). Accuracy may take a hit, though.
“Can I dictate into a pocket recorder and transcribe it later?” Yes. The setup is more involved, though: only some recorders are compatible, and you have to record 15 minutes of training.
“Doesn’t Windows Vista come with speech recognition?” Yes, and it’s really good — quite similar to NatSpeak, actually. But Nuance says that, oddly enough, Vista has had virtually no effect on NatSpeak sales.
I’m guessing that obscurity is part of the reason; most people aren’t even aware that Vista offers such a feature. Vista doesn’t come with the required headset, either. Nor does the Vista version offer the same accuracy, features or power of NatSpeak, and it isn’t available in other languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch and so on).
NatSpeak is available in a number of versions. The Standard edition ($100) has the same accuracy as the others, but it’s just for bare-bones dictation.
To get the more advanced goodies described in this review — the natural-language commands, Bluetooth mikes and recorders — you need the Preferred edition ($200). It also lets you set up voice macros that type out boilerplate text. For example, you can say, “Buzz off,” and it will type: “Thanks for thinking of me! Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’m unable to accept your kind offer at this time.”
There are also medical and legal editions ($1,600 and $1,200, yikes), as well as a Professional edition ($900) for corporate administrators who want to manage many NatSpeak installations from a central server. The Pro version also recognizes natural-language commands for Microsoft Outlook, like “Send e-mail to Mom” or “Schedule a meeting with Barack Obama and John McCain.”
Apart from Vista, NatSpeak really has no competition. Philips has dropped out of the American market. I.B.M.’s own ViaVoice hasn’t been updated since 2003, and its sole distributor is, get this, Nuance.
Maybe that’s why Nuance makes only small, confident changes from one version of NatSpeak to the next. Without any rivals, why add bells and whistles that risk mucking up the program’s virtues?
As a result, existing NaturallySpeaking owners can usually afford to skip a generation between upgrades. Version 10 is a healthy leap ahead of version 8, but version 9 owners shouldn’t feel compelled to upgrade.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some real work to do: “Search maps for dilithium crystals near New York City. ...”
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.