Nuance Discontinues Dragon For Mac

(Randy B. Singer) #1

Nuance has discontinued the only professional quality speech-to-text product for the Macintosh (Dragon):

I guess that one could have predicted this when Apple started to include a limited version in the Mac OS. Sadly, Nuance (a horrible company) bought up and discontinued all of their speech-to-text competitors.

Many professionals rely on dictation for their work. If you folks think that this is going to impact your use of the Macintosh, I urge you to write to Apple and implore them to use their influence to have this product made available again. Apple has previously paid third party software developers to remain on the Mac platform when they thought that the product was essential for keeping a lot of users in the Mac camp.

(Curtis Wilcox) #2

Isn’t a lot of Apple’s voice tech licensed from Nuance? I think it’s more plausible that they will make further improvements to macOS’s built-in voice control and dictation capabilities, possibly by licensing some code from Nuance.

There’s not another alternative for voice control of your Mac, is there an alternative worth looking at for dictation? I see a number of web-based options that work in the Chrome browser but I don’t know if any offer anything that makes it superior to what macOS has built-in.

(Randy B. Singer) #3

I’d say that the chances of a third party developing a similar product are non-existent. Nuance bought up, and discontinued the products of, all their competitors, which means that they hold all of the critical patents on this technology. Not to mention it took decades of development to get the product to be as good as it is now. The obstacles to another developer who wanted to enter this space are just too great.

Apple has licensed Nuance’s speech-to-text technology. My hope is that they can enhance what is already in the Mac OS. But I don’t know the limits of their license.

What really concerns me is that hundreds of doctors and lawyers across the country are going to be abandoning the Macintosh now for lack of this product. I don’t know if Apple cares about this or not. It might be worth writing to Apple and pointing out to them, for those of you who rely on and will miss this product.

(Michael Rosen) #4

I’m confused. I have Dragon for Mac, the not-professional version I think, and I had to train it and produce a profile. Just now I activated Mac Dictation within Accessibility and spoke the beginning of the Declaration of Independence using the headset that came with Dragon - it transcribed correctly! How did the Mac know my voice?

(Randy B. Singer) #5

The dictation/transcription feature in the Mac OS is licensed from Nuance. It’s limited in that you can only dictate a sentence or two at a time and important tools one would want to have if one routinely used dictations, such as using your voice to do corrections, are left out. The technology is very advanced. Even without training the accuracy is quite high.

I don’t know what the terms are for Apple’s licensing of Nuance’s dictation/transcription technology. There was some talk a while back of Google purchasing Nuance, and attendant fear that they would withhold this technology from Apple. I don’t know what became of that.

(gastropod) #6

Randy B. Singer wrote: “It’s limited in that … such as using your voice to do corrections, are left out”

On a Mac, you can Enable advanced commands in Accessibility / Dictation (dictation needs to be turn on when you do it). This enables a lot of commands that let you edit by voice, such as Select sentence, Go to beginning of the paragraph, Find the text, Bold that. You can also add your own commands, including workflows.

I’m sure it’s not as much as the full Dragon has, but I was surprised at how useable it is with no training (of either the software or of me).

(Todd Scheresky) #7

Some may say no big deal that software sucks. Well, for someone like myself who uses the software daily to control his Mac completely by voice it’s a big deal. I have no use of my arms and since Dragon Dictate 2.0 I’ve been able to use my Mac completely hands-free by voice complements of Dragon Dictate for Mac. Being able to use a computer completely hands-free is very enabling for a high-level quadriplegic. I was looking forward to upgrading to macOS Mojave but now it looks like I’m screwed.

I know Apple has built-in voice recognition. It’s pretty good but it lacks all the features needed to run the computer hands-free by voice. I know Apple has the resources and expertise to add these missing features. How do I get them interested in enhancing macOS built-in speech recognition to allow complete operation of the Mac by voice? If you want to do me and others with physical limitations that need to control their computer by voice a favor go and create a macOS enhancement request as I describe here:

(Randy B. Singer) #8

There is only one way…send Apple feedback. The more people you can get to tell Apple that this is an important feature for a lot of users, the better.

You might not think that this will work, but I’ve seen it work in the past.

(Todd Scheresky) #9

Randy, if you open the PDF I included with my post it talks about what I’ve done so far. It also asks people that read it to do me favor and post a macOS feature request. I also include the missing features that if added would make macOS built-in speech recognition a possible replacement for Dragon for Mac. I’ve already posted this PDF to my Facebook page and the macOS support forum. If you read the PDF I’ve already contacted Apple Accessibility. As the PDF indicates Apple Accessibility recommended switch control. Switch control may be okay for some but highly inefficient for those of us that are highly productive with a continuous speech recognition product. Anyway, thanks for responding.


I’d like to add another suggestion if this very excellent one doesn’t produce a timely and positive response. Apple does pride itself on its focus on accessibility and features and services that help the disabled, which does generate good press coverage for them. Bad publicity could instantly blow this very positive image, and it would be the absolutely last thing they would want, especially since all the FAANG stocks are taking a beating. I’d think about contacting national and local support and caregiver organizations, like the Christopher Reeve Foundation, as well as organizations like Lighthouse for the blind.

A more drastic measure would be to contact consumer and health reporters who could be interested in doing features about how Apple put the kibosh on a feature so important in enabling the disabled to live independently and discuss superior Windows/Android solutions. The New York Times’ Tuesday edition’ Health section has devoted a lot of column inches to issues such as this, as do many other national and local media, in broadcast, narrowcast and online.

Apple, I suspect, is currently smarting from what I consider some undeserved bad press about changing its financial disclosure announcements, as well as about the downturn i that all the FAANG stocks are suffering through. They really won’t want to get sucker punched over a no longer supported feature that helps the disabled.

(Adam Engst) #11

Just wanted to note that Apple has built some level of voice commands into macOS. The so-called Dictation Commands have been there for a long time. I doubt they’re anywhere near as good as Dragon Dictate was, but they’re worth checking out if you haven’t already.

(Todd Scheresky) #12

Adam I am aware of what macOS built-in speech recognition (a.k.a. System Preferences > Keyboard > Dictation and System Preferences > Accessibility > Dictation > Dictation Commands) offers. If it was enough I would use it. It’s not enough though.

macOS built-in speech recognition needs at a minimum:

  • Support for custom words, i.e., I need to add the words I use on a regular basis that do not come in the default vocabulary.
  • Support speaker dependent continuous speech recognition, i.e., the speech recognition engine needs to be able to improve accuracy by learning from corrections.
  • Support Speakable menus. When Dragon for Mac added this feature I could suddenly traverse menus by voice and I did not have to add custom commands. This was huge.
  • Support positioning of the cursor. Dragon for Mac has MouseGrid. MacOS built-in speech needs something similar if not license the patent from Nuance.
  • Support pressing and holding the mouse button so you can drag things around.

Please support us macOS users that need a hands-free interface to the Mac by going out and filling out the macOS enhancement request with the bullet points I mentioned earlier. Thanks.

(Adam Engst) #13

I was afraid that Apple’s Dictation Commands weren’t anywhere near what Dragon Dictate could do. I’ll see if I can write something for TidBITS about this, since I agree that it’s a serious shame that Apple’s voice control doesn’t have these features. Nor has Apple updated it in years, as far as I’m aware.

(Todd Scheresky) #14

Adam, a Tidbits article would be great. The disabled are probably the biggest losers of Dragon Dictate for Mac being discontinued but there’s also others that will be negatively affected. There are people with repetitive stress injury (RSI) and writers who leverage Dragon Dictate for Mac to do their work that will be affected. An article might shed more light on the situation.

I’m running macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 (last version of macOS that Dragon Dictate 6.0.8 is officially compatible with). I went and looked at System Preferences > Accessibility > Dictation > Dictation Commands again. It’s actually pretty good. Speakable menus is supported under Dictation Commands. If I can figure out how to write a workflow to hold the mouse button, release the mouse button, and move cursor up/down/left/right a certain amount (Dragon has voice command move mouse right/left/up/down centimeters/points) I can probably knock 2 more enhancement request items off my list. The following items however still need to be added to provide a viable alternative to Dragon Dictate:

  • Support for custom words. Depending on the profession you are in you use certain words regularly. I’m not requesting Apple provide a medical, law, etc. vocabulary. But I am requesting the ability to add the words I use in my profession on a regular basis to the vocabulary.
  • Support speaker dependent continuous speech recognition. macOS built-in speech recognition needs to support learning from corrections so it improves voice recognition accuracy as corrections are made.

I probably could buy an expensive head mouse to position the cursor but it would be better if there was support for positioning the mouse pointer (a.k.a. cursor) built into macOS by default.

Dragon Dictate in use. Occasionally mistakes are made. I correct the ones I notice…

(Adam Engst) #15

Might Keyboard Maestro be a help with positioning the cursor? I don’t know offhand if it can do a mouseDown without a mouseUp, but I do see an explicit Release option in its mouse-click action. It has a Discourse forum too where you could ask if need be.

(Jesse the K) #16

It’s especially frustrating because people like yourself paid $100s to become alpha and beta testers for this product. I’ve made my complaint using your helpful form.

I assume you’ve tried to use Mouse Keys? or the keyboard-driven interface to VoiceOver? (both would require you to relearn years of muscle memory, and are hacky.)

(Todd Scheresky) #17

Yeah, from the first version (2.0) I purchased every upgrade. Nuance had terrible customer service. However, with each upgrade I could do a little bit more and even though it wasn’t bug free I was able to work around the major bugs so I was functional with it. Of course you realize there was no alternative so either work through the bugs or go without. The latter was not an option for me.

I assume you’re talking about the macOS enhancement request I described in the PDF. If so, thank you very much. Hopefully there will be enough requests Apple enhances its built-in speech recognition.

Yeah, I am aware of those interfaces. You have to realize I have no use of my arms. Therefore to interact with the keyboard or mouse I have to put a mouthstick in my mouth and type 1 character at a time and be hunched over the trackball to move the cursor around. I haven’t done that for 10 or 15 years years. Having to go back to a mouthstick would be a major impact to my productivity. Not something I’m willing to do.

(Todd Scheresky) #18

Adam, any chance you could bring some attention back to this issue in early 2019?


(Adam Engst) #19

Yes, it remains on my overly long list of stuff to do!