Dictation vs. Typing on iOS

Do you remember when data entry with your voice became „the thing“ on iOS?

Do you still remember when Apple announced Siri for the iPhone? 

"How cool is talking to your phone?!"* 

That’s what I thought. Except it wasn’t cool because it didn’t reliably work.

Dictation never became a thing for me in the past because it was laggy and you never knew when your entry just failed. Blue circle of death that vanishes into a vacuum of nothing.

So I have been basically ignoring dictation for a long time. A few entries here and there from time to time. But it never became a consistent thing.

Keyboard typing on an iPhone

I still mostly rely on manual text entry and typing on the screen for data entry into my phone. Recently, with the launch of iOS8, I expected typing to become „typing 2.0“ with custom keyboard integration. 

I have been playing around with quite a few of these third party keyboards, but after 2 months or so, I have meanwhile found myself homed back to the Apple stock keyboard. For one, because it’s quicker, but mainly, because it’s the only keyboard with the microphone button.

Some of the first third party keyboards that I installed after the release of iOS 8 were Minuum, Fleksy, SwiftKey, TextExpander, later to be followed by PopKey, Kaomoji and Clips.

The latter serve functions different from standard text entry and so they are a special case of their own. The former are primarily intended for writing, all of them with a slightly different touch.

Minuum is a keyboard that allows for minimising the keys and so grants more visible screen real estate. It’s still mind boggling to me how the keyboard is correct most of the time in word prediction, even though I am fat-fingeredly tapping on a layer of combined letters.

Fleksy has its charme due to its color options and intuitive gestures. Some guy has set a typing record on it, but I am still really slow on this keyboard.

SwiftKey is a formidable allrounder that shines with swipe-typing, or however this is called nowadays. I am strong in bilingual text entry switching frequently between English and German and Swiftly somehow manages to know just what I want to type without any long-presses on globe-symbols.

I use the TextExpander keyboard to make the large collection of snippets I have created on my Mac over the years available across all iOS apps. It serves a function, though I prefer the integrated option of text expansion that is offered by apps like Fantastical, OmniFocus or Drafts. Unfortunately, it is not possible to use dictated spelling to trigger snippets, even if you have all-caps-snippets (say something like XSIG which pops into your email signature). I think I could make some use of that feature.

Part of the quarrel that I have with third party keyboards on the iPhone are the still omnipresent bugs that surround them. My Kaomoji keyboard strangely comes up as a first choice whenever I intend to type something „non-Kaomoji-based“. I think this happens because I may have recently used the keyboard somewhere else, but until now I still haven’t found the trick that always works to keep it in its order.

Looking back at these last weeks, I have to admit that I have almost completely abandoned those third party keyboards that have replacing of the Apple stock keyboard in mind.

The few that I have left active now are the PopKey GIF keyboard, the Kaomoji keyboard, Clips and TextExpander. I thought Swiftkey might eventually still make the cut for I found swipe-typing a good alternative for text-entry while walking or doing stuff one-handedly, but even this hasn’t stuck. Mostly, because it takes just that one second too long to get it activated.

Until the bugs surrounding iOS keyboards are purged from the system, I find it hard to keep consistent on using third party keyboards apart from specialized use cases like text expansion or sending SWAG-labeled pug-GIFs.

Back to voice recognition

Pressing the little microphone button next to the space bar on the stock keyboard and just speaking out whatever I want to jot down has just become so much better in recent weeks.

Siri (if that’s her doing the stenography) seems to make less and less mistakes, even with the complicated stuff like medical terms, contact names and longer paragraphs.

It is now finally possible to follow along the text as words are being processed in realtime. With this, you get a certain amount of feedback that makes you confident about what you said and what has been registered.

I have found myself losing my point less and less. This used to be a real issue.

It used to be: Speak a paragraph and wait for the circle to disappear and the block of text to appear. If it didn’t appear, you got all frustrated, had to think about your idea and its formulation again and in this process often lost your point. It has gotten better now and somehow it appears to me as if it is way more lightweight concerning the (still obligatory) data connection.

The goal is to just get that thought out of the gyri of your brain. For this, just talk. Punctuation really isn’t that necessary, so skimp all the „period“ and „new paragraph“.

The great thing about dictation on iOS is that I can use it across apps. Turns out that messaging comprises only a small part of my text entry. With dictation it is now possible to squeeze much more productivity stuff and creative writing out of your iPhone.

Lately, I have made quite heavy use of the feature in my productivity workflows. 

As thoughts tend to appear and vanish quickly in my mind, I need a manner to jot them down as quickly as possible. Sometimes ideas are fragile thing that only show up ever so shortly. If you don’t grab them, they vanish. Sometimes in mid sentence.

Typing and thinking about what you’re typing, correcting your words, tweaking the syntax may just be reasons why you’ll sometimes lose your train of thought.

Still, dictation wasn’t an alternative to typing, until it became reliable. Or for that matter, more reliable.

How I am using dictation in personal productivity on iOS

  1. I am using dictation to jot down thoughts into Drafts 4. Drafts is my main platform (or inbox) for productivity on iOS. There, all the stuff gets stored to be processed. I jam my stuff in there using Siri and the „New Reminder“ command, though I would prefer a „New Note“ integration with Drafts as this seems more neutral to me. Not every entry is a reminder, but most reminders can be regarded as notes (minus the due date thing). As already stated above, punctuation and even grammatical correctness isn’t fully necessary to capture a thought. Errors (typos, misreadings, etc.) are allowed. Technical problems (that blue circle of death) not so much.

  2. I enter calendar dates with dictation via Fantastical and it’s natural language recognition. So, I do the talking, Siri does the typing and Fantastical fills the slots.

  3. All my messaging and most of my email is done via dictation. Sometimes, I still catch myself falling back to typing. But if you have gotten used to dictation like I have, you’ll be like „aw, stupid me“ in these situations from now on.

  4. Siri may have gotten better with her integrated functions, but Germany is somehow still lacking behind in these features. Still, I am using Siri increasingly for web search. Are you one of those people using the browser bar for your search queries? At least, press the microphone button here and don’t type. And you should also do this to search your Evernote database.

  5. I have ditched the awkward-voice (looking out for others watching me talking to my phone in a somewhat crouched body position) and the talking-to-an-idiot voice (e.g. „RE-MEM-BER TO BUUUYYY CO-CO-NUT OIL“ and everything that starts with „Siri..“) when using dictation. I tend to talk to Siri as I would to a normal person on a phone (though I am not holding the phone to my cheek but speak into the mic and - though with decreasing frequency - have to use stuff like „full-stop“ and „comma“).

  6. Though it’s not really dictation, the „Hey Siri!“ (= Ahoy Telephone!) command is really neat.

Something I forgot? Let me know.

*I am not much of a „phone“-guy like in „ring ring“-pickup-„hello?“, so talking into my phone principally is a rather seldom occurrence.