First, dictation and voice control of computers and iPads and everything seemed to be something from science fiction films. No, not seemed: they were from science fiction films and nothing like that happened in the real world. Then the future came to our PCs and Macs and dictation could do anything. Except it couldn't do anything. Not a thing. Voice dictation was rubbish and it never, ever worked the way it said it would on the box. That box, by the way, could be equally the software box the things used to coming or the telly in the corner. They both claimed the world, they both lied.
Perhaps that just put me off for a long time but I really think it was also the fact that were voice dictation to work it would mean dictating by your voice. That sounds sensible, but I'm a writer and I don't have to be sensible. I like writing. I like using keyboards. I actually love typing.
So the knowledge that it just simply never worked coupled to the fact that I just simply never wanted voice control, meant I've ignored it all.
Until last night when my wife Angela accused me of having entire conversations with Siri on my iPhone. The thing is, she's right. I do. There are regular things I do with Siri that have taken over the way I used to do things. It's quicker now to search something online by Siri than it is to type into Google, for example. I can no longer find any of the weather apps I've downloaded to the phone because it's become just so much quicker to ask Siri. “What's the temperature?” – that's been a very common thing for me to ask recently as it got very cold. “Is it going to rain?” is another regular. In the end, that is actually pretty much all I ever need to know about the weather. So it's Siri in, apps out.
Then today I had a thing where I was driving and an email came in from a friend. An email I had been waiting for, an email I'd been hoping to get. I asked Siri to read it. That was new and it was good. It wasn't like having my friend in the car but it was like having a conversation.
There was a problem, though. There appears to be a limit on how much Siri will read of your email. It seemed to read about a third to maybe half of a fairly short email.
And now I'm finding another problem: it will only let me dictate a certain amount of text at one time. Because, yes, I think you guessed this already, this entire piece has been dictated through Siri. I do and I don't like it. I'm finding I have to compose an entire sentence in my head before I actually say it. I'm more used to exploring on the keyboard, letting my fingers find the words and then if necessary just deleting. So my flow is different and I think you see that in the writing style: I'm a little bit more staccato, maybe a little bit longer. And I can see that the paragraph structure is different.
It's easy enough to get a new paragraph when you want one but still I find my thought processes are different and I look like I'm a different person writing this. only a writer would care about that but I'm a writer, I care about that.
I think I'm less of a non-fan then I was before. Put it that way. I'm feeling a bit grotty today and being able to say this instead of type it has unexpectedly proved a boom. Thank you for being a test subject as I write to you.
The thing is, it seems to work. I like Siri, I know many people don't, and I do find Siri seems to have good and bad days for no apparent reason. But it's an amazing piece of technology. I am regularly astonished by what it gets correctly when I'm speaking just as much as I am occasionally bemused by what it gets wrong.
I need the keys. I actually need to knead the keys as I write. What this is telling me is that I think I crossed a line, I've crossed a little hurdle, where I now actually accept that voice control and dictation is possible and it does work. If nothing else, I'm going to be happier continuing to have conversations with Siri.
And in fact, as I said that last paragraph, a text came in from Angela and I told Siri yes I wanted to reply. This is becoming science fiction. I am becoming used to controlling my iPads and iPhones with Siri. Part of me still doesn't believe it. But, wow.
I don't think that it will make me more productive, necessarily, at least not yet. But the combination of being able to speak one thing while typing another, that would. That has, actually. Now I think of it, I remember a time quite recently on my Mac when I was so busy typing I couldn't add add something into my calendar so I told Siri on my iPhone to do it instead. That meant it automatically came to my Mac as well. This is the kind of voice control or dictation that would make me faster, would make me more productive, and yet let me keep doing the thing I like doing most: writing on a keyboard.
At long last, wow.