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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mac Speak: the Computer will Listen and Obey

Ever been envious of those guys on Science Fiction shows (like star trek) and movies that talk to their computer? One of the little known and equally unused feature of Mac OS X is the user's ability to command the computer to do a thing by just speaking to it.

screenshot of my system preferences

In your OS X, open up system preferences and you'll see a mic icon labeled speech. click on that and you'll find the speech recognition options. in there you can set your computer by clicking on certain commands--- for me i usually swap between setting it to option+esc or choosing the computer to "listen" actively. you can even set it to follow commands after a certain keyword is evoked, like your computer's name.

it is quite fun really, when you're reading a web page and you just utter "move page down" and the page goes down. Or "move page up" and the web page goes up. You can also evoke apps like "switch to parallels" or "switch to neooffice" and the computer will open the app for you. It impresses the kids when you say "switch to photobooth" and their favorite photobooth application rises.

Macworld has tips on how to "bookmark" a page in safari--- and when you issue your voice command, the browser will open the page for you. Macworld uses safari but really, if your default browser is camino or firefox, it will open the page in that browser. pretty neat when you're coming in the morning (i set the system to "wakeup" at a certain time of day so when i do slip into my home office it's primed and ready to play), sipping coffee and your system is idle. utter "open my browser" and followed by "open google reader", takes multi-tasking to a higher plane.

does the novelty wear off? I mentioned earlier that this is a little known and equally little used feature. how come? See, it is fun and useful but 90% of the time it doesn't work. most especially when the environment is quite noisy and the computer can't understand you or when you find yourself working and listening to iTunes at the same time (or when kids are in the area). Which is why i switch to using a keyboard shortcut to enable speech recognition during those instances or just shut it out entirely.