Week 16, 2017: Using voice-to-text with your smartphone or tablet

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 17, 2017

Q. Do you have any recommendations for how I can type more quickly and accurately on my iPhone? I used to have a Droid with a pull-out keyboard, and I kind of miss it compared to touching the tiny keyboard icons on the iPhone display.

-R.S., Manchester, N.H.

A. My first recommendation would be a stylus, if you want to continue to hunt and peck.

I also recommend trying voice-to-text. I am continually surprised by how many people don’t know what the little microphone next to the spacebar is for. If you touch the microphone button, it will beep and as you speak it will type using voice-to-text. You can even add punctuation marks by saying them in the sentence, for example saying, “Hi Mark comma how are you question mark.” It will type on your screen, “Hi Mark, how are you?” (Those are my quotes for illustrating how it works. They would not have appeared in the typed text.) This may not be a practical solution in public places, but if you can find some space to yourself you will probably find this to be the quickest and easiest way to create text with a tablet or phone. You do need a good data connection for it to work. If you don’t, the microphone will be greyed out.

One caveat (and it is a big one) is you must get in the habit of ALWAYS checking your words before you hit send. The system is surprisingly accurate, yet still far from perfect. A few days before I wrote this column I had two stark reminders of this. The first time was when I was out running errands and an email from a reader popped up on my phone. He thanked me for a turntable recommendation that worked out well for him, then asked me what new amplifier he should buy. I try to answer everybody, and if I don’t reply absolutely as soon as possible I will soon become buried in email. Wanting to reply right away, I touched reply, tapped the microphone and said, “Glad to help. Which turntable did your buy?” The phone typed, “Go to Hell. Which turntable did you buy?” When I read it, I was mortified and quickly corrected it. Later that evening, I was using my iPad to write an email to support a female friend who was dealing with some unexpected heartbreak. I tapped the microphone button and said, “I am glad you are taking such a positive attitude about everything.” The iPad typed in the email body, “I am glad you are taking such a prostitute attitude about everything.” Funny as it is to now, these were probably two of the worst possible phrases or words to use in each situation. Usually when it types the wrong word it simply doesn’t make sense, but in these cases it would’ve been social disaster. There are many stories on the Internet about voice-to-text and autocorrect errors, and some of the examples are even worse than mine. I just found it ironic that it happened at about the same time I received your question.

By the way, I wrote this entire column by talking to my iPad. Sure, I had to go back and make a lot of corrections and edits, but I was able to create it much faster than I could have typing with my fingers. I’ve come to look at it like paving a road. Talking to the iPad lays down all the asphalt quickly, then you go over it a few times to smooth it out.