I admit it. I talk to myself. Often. I’m a Mac user so I can get away with it. Most people use PCs so when they see me talking to my Mac they smile, sigh, sometimes snicker, but they seem to understand.
What they don’t know is that my Mac can talk back to me. I can talk to my Mac. My Mac talks back. It can even read stories to my kids. If I could get it to change diapers I would adopt it. Or, at least buy it something; like a new mouse pad.
Who among the growing throngs of Mac users doesn’t know that our Mac has sound, a microphone, and a camera (most Macs; not the mini or the MacPro)?
We play music, music videos, movies, movie clips all right on the Mac, so we know there’s sound built in. Also built in is the ability for your Mac to read to you.
If you were once comfortable being the only one to do the talking to your Mac, behold. Your Mac can talk back. Not only that, your Mac can listen to you, and take dictation.
In fact, there are a number of nifty Mac utilities, ranging from free to not so free, which can unleash some of your Mac’s inner feelings. Well, inner voice.
What got me on this subject is a handy utility called Verbalize. It’s a free way to type in some text and get your Mac to read it back to you in any one of a number of different voices.
Mac OS X has multiple voices ready to read text. For Verbalize, simply enter the text, select the voice and click the only button that works.
Verbalize reads the text in the voice you selected.
Even better, Verbalize will save the voice in a recorded audio format so you can drop it into an audio track in Garageband or send it to someone via email.
If you’re running OS X Leopard, you’ll need to enter the best Mac voice, Alex, to have Alex read to you. Most of the Mac voices sound synthetic, but Alex sounds like a human.
What’s the application? Not much. It’s fun. It reads in one of many voices. It saves the reading as an audio file.
Another free utility that reads text is Say It Save It. It saves the reading as an MP3 file which you can email to others or drop into an audio track.
iSpeakIt is another Mac utility which will read various documents in audio format. Simply put, it’s a file-to-audio converter. iSpeakIt reads Word documents, Pages files, PDF files, RTF files, old AppleWorks files, even plain text and HTML pages.
It uses the Mac’s text-to-speech engine to create the voice reading and saves the audio as an MP3, AAC, or even AIFF file. Not too pricey at $20.
For less money and more fun is VoiceCandy. It doesn’t read anything but records your voice and plays it back in a bunch of different, sometimes funny, voices.
What you get is an attractive and sophisticated speech dictation tool for Intel Macs. Inside MacSpeech is the famous Dragon speech recognition technology.
What does it do? In addition to simply taking dictation, and recording the text of whatever you speak, MacSpeech also takes verbal commands. Talk to your Mac.
Instead of using your Mac’s mouse, speak to MacSpeech Dictate and it will open applications and utilities, enter text, and execute a variety of commands. or $200 I think I’m entitled to have it change diapers.
Unlike some voice recognition apps, MacSpeech works well with major applications for the Mac, including Word, Photoshop, iPhoto, Keynote, iChat, and Mail.
You’ll spend a few minutes with the MacSpeech headphones (See? $200 gets you all the quality extras—except diaper changing) to train it to recognize your voice and speech habits. For me, it works. For my husband, who is from New Orleans, it gets heartburn.
MacSpeech is both dictation and command driven, and responds to your directions. So, your Mac is capable of reading text in a variety of voices, saving the voice as an audio file, and doing most of what you tell it to do via voice commands.
Don’t want to cough up a few hundred dollars? If you’ve used a Mac for awhile you’ll remember that System Preferences has a page of prefs for Speech. Click it and behold—no additional charge and you get Speech Recognition and Text to Speech capability, right in OS X.
Click the Text to Speech tab and listen to Alex wail away; even change the reading rate to slower or faster, or have him announce the time very hour. Annoy your friends, neighbors, and cubicle farm mates.
Mac OS X comes with a number of Speakable Items, basically verbal instructions you can give your Mac to make it do things. It isn’t much but it works, though a headset with built-in microphone works better.
Turn it on with a click, try it out, and set various commands from the Command Set in the Speech Preferences. You can make Address Book names speakable, open files, switch between applications, and so on.
Big whoop, right? Hasn’t this kind of technology been on our Macs since the last century? Yep, and so far, no one has done much with it. Our Macs remain a far cry from Majel Barrett in Star Trek.
Enough with all the canned responses and instructions in most of these do-not-much utilities.
I want my Mac to be my friend, to listen to me, to ask me questions, to talk with me about the weather and kids and jobs and men, maybe even a little politics and religion, and laugh when I talk about my in-laws.
I’d pay for that capability.