Quit Typing, and Start Talking: Chrome Brings Speech Recognition to the Web

Ever get tired of typing everything that you need to write down? How about save your fingers a bit of work and use speech recognition to write for you? Better yet, how about do it in Chrome, for free, on any platform?

It might sound too good to be true, but Chrome now has speech recognition built-in, and there’s a new app from Digital InspirationDictation — that makes it easy to put it to use. You might never have to type in your notes again online!

Just Say It!

Speech recognition is nothing new — it’s been built into computers since the turn of the century, though without buying a program like Dragon Dictate, it’s never been that useful. That’s changed recently, with high-quality voice recognition coming in Siri that was later added to OS X, as well as Google’s voice recognition in Android and its mobile apps. And now, Google’s brought that to the web. In Chrome, web apps can listen to you talking and send the data to Google to get transcribed and sent back as text almost instantly — for free.

Digital Inspiration’s Dictation takes Google’s speech recognition, and combines it with a notebook that stores what you’ve written in your browser’s offline cache, giving you a way to put the speech recognition to productive use. Just visit the Dictation app, then click the Start Dictation button on the bottom left. You’ll need to allow the app to use your microphone — something you’ll need to do every time you want to use the Dictation app — and then just start talking. It’ll start transcribing what you say, sometimes going back to fix something after the context becomes clear.

Dictation is supposed to accept commands like new sentence and new paragraph, but they didn’t work at all in my tests. That’s not too big of problem, though it’d be nice to see them working. What does work for now is text editing the traditional way; you can edit any text in Dictation, or type in manually.

Then, once you’ve said your fill, you can copy the text out and paste it into a text box in another web app or save it in any app on your computer. Or, you can click the Export button to save your text to Dropbox or Google Drive, or download it as a .txt file.

Edit and save your dictated text

The most annoying part of using Dictation is that you have to allow the microphone every singe time you use it. You can get around that, though, by installing the Dictation Chrome App from the Chrome Web Store. It’ll run offline, so it opens instantly — though you’ll still need to be connected to the internet for the app to transcribe what you say. It’s almost the same as the online version, just a tad faster to get started with, and you won’t have to approve it to use your mic each time.

Going native…

Talking Everyone Online

It’s a rare day when you see a speech icon in a web app, but that might be less rare in the future than you’d think, thanks to the Web Speech API. It’s part of HTML5, and when other browsers add it in the future (Safari’s already working on it), any web app that supports speech in Chrome today will automatically work with speech in them. If you’re a web developer, you can go ahead and add speech support to your web app today, if you’d like.

Google doesn’t even support speech in all of its apps yet, but there are two ways you can use it directly from Google right now. First off, just visit the Google Search page, click the microphone, and search by voice. It’s simple and easy … and oddly, doesn’t even have to ask your permission every time to listen to your speech (of course, Chrome is built by Google, so…). Then, there’s also the original web speech demo from Google, which transcribes your text into a box and lets you easily email it. It also lets you pick the language, which is one nice little touch.

Google.com’s got speech recognition, too.

Now, without any partisan bias, I must say that Google’s speech recognition is far from perfect. It’s good, great even, but still missed more stuff that I expected it to. Additionally, in a side-by-side test with OS X’s built-in dictation — that’s powered by the same smarts as the iPhone’s Siri — I found that Google’s Chrome dictation messed up more of what I said than OS X dictation. That could be because I’ve used it more, but still, there’s some work for Google to do here.

But that’s to be expected. This is the early days of online speech recognition, and it should keep improving, especially if Google’s tying into the same database that powers its voice search on Android and in its iOS apps. Plus, it’ll be exciting to see if other browsers do it better — perhaps with local speech recognition — in the future.

Conclusion

I don’t know about you, but I personally use Siri’s dictation feature on my iPhone almost daily to send messages to my wife, friends, and coworkers. It works — of course, not perfectly, but is still terribly useful. While I’ve never used it to write a full article, I have used OS X’s built-in dictation occasionally, and it’s a simple way to jot down some thoughts without having to reach for your keyboard.

It might not be life-changing, but having dictation in Chrome on any computer you use should surely come in handy sometimes. I know I’ll be putting it to use more, especially if I’m missing OS X dictation when I’m working on a PC.


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