Can’t afford a stenographer? Well now iPhone has an App for that. Nuance, the creators of the successful Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software have expanded into mobile service. Dragon Dictation is now available for free on the App store and it brings all of the high quality speech recognition you’d expect from Nuance and puts it in the palm of your hand. Dictations up to 30 minutes can be converted to writing and then emailed, texted, or copied to the clipboard for later use. Check out the demo video from Nuance after the break.

Dragon Dictation lets you record up to 30 minutes of text, edit it, then send it via SMS, email, or your iPhone's clipboard.
Dragon Dictation lets you record speech, edit , and send via SMS, email, or clipboard.

Dragon Dictation has most of the features you’d want in a speech to text App. It allows you to edit converted text easily. It let’s you cut and paste text into other Apps. It can’t directly interact with other applications, but that’s Apple’s fault (damn the ‘no Apps running in the background’ restriction). DD is also fairly quick. Wifi connections allow for text conversions to happen in a second or less. 3G connections bring that time up to around three seconds or so (depending on connection). As speech recognition technology improves further it’s going to become even more universal. The new 3GS iPhone has voice command capabilities and Nuance provides the voice command routines for the Samsung Rogue (see the second video below). We’re likely to see the smart phones of the future run on a combination of touch, talk, and physical movement.

While many are impressed with Dragon Dictation’s capabilities, there’s some big concerns about the way it processes those dictations. Each spoken recording is sent to Nuance’s servers, converted to text, and then returned to the user. Although all the translation is handled by computers, no information is saved, and the servers are secure, reviews at the App store have repeatedly complained about the possible infringement on privacy. Even more concerns have arisen over Dragon sending your contact list to the server during translation. This information is only used to help recognize which names you’ll be using in speech, but it still worries some. Luckily, Nuance has promised to make the upload of contact optional in the next version.

I’m not suspicious of Nuance using servers to handle speech recognition, but I’m a little surprised it’s still necessary. Translation applications like Jibbigo have speech recognition, translation, and text to talk code and still don’t require connecting to a central server. Granted, the speech recognition isn’t as advanced as Nuance’s…but still, one wonders. Perhaps the Dragon Dictation umbilical cord is in place as a result of it being free software. When Nuance starts charging for the App (and I’m sure they will at some point) they may also provide a version that can run without connectivity.

Right now even the future of the free version of Dragon Dictation is a little uncertain. Despite it’s technical achievements, the program is slightly below a two star rating (as the time of writing) at the App store. Again, most complaints are not in regards to the actual work of the program but rather focus on the relay of information to the Nuance servers. Privacy is a strange thing. Google and other search engines and web email providers don’t apologize for their rampant (and automated) pillaging of your online activity to provide you with ads. Maybe Nuance would get better reviews for Dragon Dictation if they simply buried the privacy concerns in a mountain of fine print instead of being upfront about it.

No matter. Even if Nuance doesn’t find success on the iPhone, dictation programs certainly will. They’re just too useful. Hopefully whichever App eventually becomes the virtual stenographer of the future will be as capable as Dragon but without all the controversy. Oh, and while I’m wishing, please make this perfect software permanently free as well. Thank you.

[photo and video credit: Nuance Mobile]