Although iOS 5 has more new features than any version of iPhone and iPad software before it, we’re still waiting on a few that we expected to see demonstrated at WWDC. One of those is a Dictation feature that I have been shown evidence of in the iOS 5 beta. Update.
This feature will allow you to tap a microphone button on your keyboard, any time it is accessible, and have your speech translated to text. This means that you can speak a text message or Tweet or search query. Anywhere that you’ve got a keyboard, you’ll have Dictation.
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This feature is not yet live in the regular iOS 5 beta, so it’s impossible to try it directly. But what you can do is try out the technology very close to the way that it almost certainly will appear in the final version.
Although the company that provides the back end technologies for this speech-to-text, Nuance, has several apps on the app store that use its functionality, one of the best implementations I’ve seen is the Target app for iPad.
During the latest episode of The Talk Show with John Gruber and Dan Benjamin, Gruber mentioned that a reader had told him about the new Target app for iPad containing Nuance technology. The reader was convinced that it was a leaked version of the new speech-to-text, but it turns out that it was just a partnership between Nuance and Target.
But the app is actually a fantastic example of how cool this function can be. When a keyboard appears in the notes or other sections of the app, you get a microphone button just above the keys. Just tap it and speak into your iPad’s mic.
A Nuance logo will pop up and the app will process your speech input. A few seconds later, you’ve got a converted passage of text. It’s actually pretty incredible and far better even than the way that the Siri or Dragon Dictation apps, which both use Nuance tech, have interpreted text in my trials.
This is the best example of what Nuance speech-to-text technology will look like in day-to-day use in iOS 5. Note that only the iPad version will work as the iPhone version is much older and does not have this tech.
The Siri app was updated some time ago, while the Target app was last updated in November of last year, making us believe that this is the latest version of this technology that you’re going to see.
There is no absolute guarantee that we will get this speech-to-text functionality in the final version of iOS 5, but we are relatively confident that it will appear. I spoke to representatives from Nuance the day before WWDC and they were positive that we would be seeing the feature demonstrated on stage the next day. Why the demo never appeared is a mystery, perhaps it wasn’t yet ready for the public eye.
But a demonstration like this Target app shows you just how good such speech-to-text technology, powered by Nuance, really is. I would love to see a function like this embedded into the core of iOS and available in any app, so here’s hoping that we’ll be seeing it on October 4th.
Update: Looks like the iPhone app has the feature as well.