Over the past few years we've grown accustomed to using our voice to interact with Siri-enabled iOS devices. So why not expect a similar experience with our computers? While not the hoped-for "Siri for the Mac," use of the new Dictation Commands feature in Yosemite can deliver a powerful and personalized interactive experience in OS X.
Speakable Items no more
Speech Recognition has been an element of the Mac experience since the pre-OS X days and lives on in the current Mac OS. While the Speakable Items interface has provided the means to control such standard computer interactions as switching applications and launching websites, it's remained separated from the Dictation abilities in Mavericks.
In Yosemite, Speakable Items are gone. Their functionality has been merged with the Dictation architecture of the OS and morphed into a new feature called Dictation Commands. But unlike Speakable Items, Dictation Commands are not separate from the rest of the speech architecture. Turn on Dictation and you automatically gain access to Dictation Commands. At any time — even during a dictation session — you can speak the title of a command to have it recognized and executed. Also gone is Mavericks' round floating Speech Feedback palette, replaced instead by Yosemite's simple Dictation Response HUD.
Say and do what you want
The best part of the new speech-related abilities of Yosemite is how easy Apple has made it to extend and customize Dictation Commands, courtesy of a new Automator template.
When you launch the Automator application in Yosemite, the workflow template chooser offers a new option: Dictation Command. Using this new workflow template you can create a system Dictation Command that automates any process or task that Automator is capable of performing.
Let's give it a try by constructing a workflow that ejects your favorite USB thumb drive. To begin, launch System Preferences, select the Dictation & Speech preference, and switch on Dictation.
While still using System Preferences choose View > Accessibility. Select the Dictation entry at the very bottom of the list and click Dictation Commands to the right. In the resulting sheet click the box next to Enable advanced commands and click Done.
Now launch Automator, select Dictation Command from the workflow chooser (see image at top), click Choose, and construct this simple workflow.
1. Plug in your USB thumb drive. From the Files & Folders library drag Get Specified Finder Items into the workflow area. Drag the mounted USB drive into this action to add it.
2. From this same Files & Folder library drag in the Eject Disk action.
3. Select the Text library and drag the Get Specified Text action into the workflow area. Enter text that reads "Boy was I glad to spit that out!" (Or other words of your choosing.)
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