dark grey microphone on light grey background indicating dictation

A Couple of iOS Dictation Tips

I am a huge fan of dictating requests to my Apple devices. For some reason, many times when I suggest to other people that they try it, they say, “I don’t like to talk to my devices.” I think if you’re around people all the time that certainly makes sense because you don’t want to bother them and you don’t want to look like you could use some mental health services.

If you’ve been holding back, perhaps what I have to say will convince you to give it a whirl. I’m wild about dictation and I have figured out a couple of tiny tips that might make it more useful for you.

Reminders

Probably the thing I dictate most often is Reminders. If I’m driving or running or walking, I don’t want to mess with my phone. It’s obviously dangerous when driving but for me, even walking is life-threatening. Remind me to tell you sometime about the time I hit my head on the sidewalk simply walking Tesla and how I had her vet test me to see if I had a concussion. And that day I wasn’t even playing with my phone!

I listen to a lot of podcasts (not a lot compared to Jill from the North Woods, but still a lot) and I’ll often hear about something interesting I want to check out later. In my case I’m normally wearing AirPods, so without needing to pause the podcast, I’ll say, “Hey S-Lady, remind me to look for that iPhone case Dave Hamilton mentioned on the Mac Geek Gab.”

Obviously, something like this isn’t a critical action item, so it’s not worth stopping and pecking out a reminder to myself on the tiny iPhone screen. Often when I get back from a run I can have a half-dozen reminders waiting for me. I don’t necessarily do these things when I get back but at least I’ll be reminded that at some point I thought it was interesting enough to set up a reminder.

Reminders at specific times

If I really do need to execute one of my reminders, I’ll add a time to the end. I’ll say, “Remind me to write to Karl at 10:30 am today.” The precise time isn’t always important, but I usually pick a time when I’m sure I’ll be back home. This will tickle me to do it instead of waiting for me to open up Reminders to see what I thought was important on my run.

Here’s a little tip about timed reminders.

The other day I inadvertently said, “Remind me at 10 am” instead of 10:30. I wasn’t sure I’d be back home in time for that reminder. Sometimes when I mess up like this I’ll just dictate a second reminder, but this week I discovered that you can actually have S-Lady adjust the time. Right after saying “Remind me at 10 am”, I said, “Change the time on that last reminder to 10:30 am” and it worked! I was pretty stoked about that.

What if you forget what you meant to say partway through?

One problem to be solved in dictating to your phone is when you forget what you need to say partway through. If you pause for any length of time at all, your voice assistant will assume that you’re finished and execute whatever partial information you gave. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a way to get a moment to gather your thoughts without the voice assistant assuming you’re finished?

Here’s my trick. Just drag out the last word you’re saying before you get stuck. Let’s take my example of setting a reminder to call Karl. I’m notoriously bad at names, which means there’s a better than 50/50 chance that by the time I get to the name I’ll need a moment. If I say, “Remind me to write to…” and pause, S-Lady will give me a reminder that simply says “Write to”.

Instead, I’ll say “Remind me to write tooooooooooo Karl!” I can hold that last syllable till Karl’s name comes into my head. I’m sure I sound like an idiot to anyone walking by but at least I get a correctly transcribed reminder when I get home. When I remember to use this little trick, it works every time.

Sending messages to people

I also use Siri to dictate messages to people when I’m walking or running. Steven Goetz and I enjoy chatting about things the Accidental Tech Podcast hosts say, and there’s no way I can remember when I get home to tell him something about the show I’m listening to while running.

If you want to send to someone on Apple Messages, you can simply say, “Send a message to Dave Hamilton” and then when she’s ready, dictate your message. I’m not a big iMessage user and instead, Telegram is my messaging service of choice. Luckily it’s quite simple to send to Telegram instead. I simply say, “Send a Telegram to Steven Goetz.” I haven’t tested it but I imagine that would work with Signal or other messaging services.

For the most part, dictation of my little messages through AirPods works remarkably well. Most people receiving dictated messages to will figure out pretty quickly that you’re dictating because of the occasional typo, and especially if a very similar-sounding word is inserted in place of what you meant. People don’t seem to mind these little typos.

But what do you do if S-Lady misinterprets what you say and the entire point of the message gets borked as a result? After you complete the dictation, she’ll read it back and say, “ready to send it?” Obviously, the answer back is “no”, but she doesn’t destroy the message when you say “no”. Instead, she says, “Ok, let me know when you’re ready to send it.” But what if you don’t ever want to send it? With that message glued to her sticky little fingers, you don’t have the option to dictate a new message.

For the last few years, I’ve tried all kinds of phrases to try to get her to abandon the message so I can dictate the correct message. I’ve tried “Delete”, “Throw it away”, “Stop”, “Never Send”, and nothing worked to make her let go of the borked message. I always just wait her out until she gets bored and drops my message somewhere random and then I can ask her again to send a Telegram to Steven Goetz about how annoying Marco is when he’s insulting all Californians.

I finally found the keyword she needs to hear to get her to abandon a message. It’s to simply say, “Erase.” I’m am incredibly happy that I can finally get her to let me dictate a new message while I still have a chance of remembering what I have to say.

Speak Quickly

My last and final tip on dictating messages and reminders is to speak very quickly. I hear some people sounding the words out super carefully, and that seems to be less successful for me than rapid and natural speech.

My theory, based on only my anecdotal observations, is that S-Lady needs the context around what you’re saying in order to figure out the words and if you go too slowly she doesn’t have that context. If you watch the dictation real-time, you’ll often see an incorrect word typed and after enough context is added, it will sort itself out.

Bottom Line

Maybe you still won’t dictate into your devices after hearing my tips, but hopefully, if and when you do dictate, these tiny tips will help you enjoy the experience more often.

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