Dictation on the iPhone


I hope this is not to far off-topic and the right board. I dream of this scenario: using the dragon dictation iPhone app while driving (2x 50 minutes every day…), copypasting it into simplenote afterwards, sync it with Scrivener. Now dragon dictation works astonishingly well when I´m in a quiet room. But with the driving noises, it doesn´t work at all anymore. My question is, has anybody experiences with external microphones or other techniques to block out noise? Anybody who dictates mobile?


I’ve had luck just using the mic’d earbuds that come with the iPhone… have you tried? I, too, love this idea!

First off, as a Brit, I’m horrified at the thought of anyone dictating while driving … but I guess it’s not as bad as the habit of the people of this Land of the Great Firewall, who send text messages while driving … a friend says that the thing that annoys her about her iPhone is that it is so slow for sending texts while driving!

That said, I’ve just installed Dragon Dictation on my iPhone (16GB, far from fully loaded) and used it yesterday to get quotations from books into the Keynote presentation for a lecture. I was amazed at how good it is, even though it had trouble with the technical terms — ‘aphasics’ coming out always as ‘a physics’ — and, in spite of my standard British RP, ‘tongue’ consistently coming out as ‘time’. This was especially impressive as it was the first time I’d used the app.

What I didn’t have time to experiment with was the fact that I could only speak for a short period before it switched into processing mode, having filled its recording buffer, and so what would happen if I simply allowed it to complete its processing and then returned to dictating, if I could simply carry on dictating while it was processing. As it was quotes that I was recording, the vast majority fitted within the sound buffer, so it wasn’t a problem. Something for me to play with when I have time.

If anyone’s interested, my workflow was:
dictate into Dragon Dictation;
email resulting text (since corrections were comparatively few, I corrected in DD, though missed some) to myself;
used a service to send the texts from emails to OmniOutliner clippings file;
copied from clippings file into outline for presentation;
exported that outline to Keynote presentation for tweaking.

I realised afterwards that I could have saved myself a step by simply hoisting the appropriate part of the clippings file and exporting that directly to Keynote, without the need for the interim outline. I don’t think it was any quicker than typing them out, but it was one hell of a lot less onerous.


Edit: I realise that these comments do not include Scrivener, but one of the intentions is to use DD for getting short bits of text such as quotes from printed sources into Scrivener. Given their nature and sparseness within the printed edition, scanning and OCR’ing, while straightforward with PDFPen Pro, would probably have been even more otiose!

Thank you for your comments!

It works fine with me with that white standard headset as long as it´s quiet around. Do you also have positive experience when it´s noisy?

xiamenese: Do you really think it is that dangerous to dictate while driving? I mean, phoning (using a headset) while driving is quite common, at least in germany. I´d think to dictate should be even less distracting, since you can set your own pace of thinking/talking and don´t get prompted to answer. I think about my stories anyway when I´m on the road, so why not just think aloud.

there´s a noise cancelling blue tooth headset, maybe I should give it a try. On the other hand I´m not sure if it works and I wouldn´t need it for other purposes.

I use a belkin mike on an ipod classic while driving,
load it into a quicktime file and do my own transcription

I bought a bluetooth headset with noise canceling now. I thought, I´d give it a try since it is kinda cool to have a wireless headphone anyway.
But it doesn’t work for this purpose. It seems that the iPhone doesn’t support bluetooth audio input. Only for phone purposes. That´s really annoying. It seems to be no problem technically. There is an app for it if you have a jailbroken iPhone (Skype users want this feature too). Apple just hasn’t allowed this feature for reasons I don’t know. I´m not sure if I´m willing to jailbreak my phone just for this.


Just got the iPod working as the microphone for Dragon Dictate on the Mac. First update DD to 2.5 then get the free app at itunes. You need to be on the same wifi network. Works very well!

Cheers Richard L


Psychologists have carried out a lot of studies on using mobile phones while driving. There is not much doubt that engaging in any secondary activity while driving will reduce driver effectiveness. See:

scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=% … _sdt=1%2C5

These two are relatively recent:

sciencedirect.com/science/ar … 7505001867


Cheers, Martin.

I completely agree with Martin, it’s very dangerous to multi-task while driving.
But I sympathize with commuters who want to use their time well.
And…you may also dictate your last wishes just before the 72-car crackup.

So, here’s a new app that transfers dictation to Dropbox.
It’s called Dropvox, and it’s $1.99 on the App Store. :smiling_imp:

I lost this thread, so never got round to responding the the OP, who queried my thinking about dictating and driving. Yes, I do think it’s dangerous; my wife’s car is bluetoothed so that if any paired phone rings, it uses the audio system and an appropriately sited mike to allow you to answer without taking your hands off the wheel. 1) I’d never hold a phone conversation like that as I know my attention is not fully on the road while doing so … the most I’ll do is to say, “I’m driving, so I’ll get back to you later”, or “I’m driving, can you hang on a few moments while I find somewhere to pull off”; 2) any sound coming directly into my ears, such as one might get from a bluetooth earphone — I have one of those somewhere to go with a previous phone — totally removes my attention from the road. I know that latter is about hearing, and the subject is about dictating, but I am not happy driving and thinking about something else. So yes, I think it’s dangerous for me and I can’t believe it isn’t equally dangerous for others.

I live and work not only in the “Land of the Great Firewall”, but what is also rapidly becoming the “Land of the Giant Traffic-jam”. There, not only are many drivers talking on their (hand-held) mobile phones while driving (including bus drivers), they’re sending text-messages! A friend of mine, a journalist, was one of the first people I knew to have an iPhone. I asked her how she liked it. She said, “It’s fine; the only disadvantage is it’s so slow to write text messages on while I’m driving.” But since the country is in the process of becoming a giant traffic-jam, such behaviour is likely to result in minor shunts — thereby rendering the traffic even more stationary, since the cars involved have to remain where they are till the police arrive … rendered even more difficult and taking much longer as they too are stuck in the resultant grid-lock — rather than major accidents!

But on the other note, Druid, Dropvox doesn’t answer the OP’s needs since it merely records voice-notes to Dropbox; Dragon Dictation uses voice recognition to create editable text from the sound-stream. Now when Dragon Dictation transfers the results to Dropbox, that’ll be terrific.


I think that it’s a bit too early to jump to any conclusions about dictating while driving. The studies Martin cites investigated the effects on driving of engaging in mobile phone conversations. Dictating is a different task from carrying on a conversation. It does not involve responding to incoming information, so it may not divide attention in the same damaging way. For example, if traffic suddenly gets heavy, you can simply break off from dictating. On the phone, people will probably keep the conversation going, to be polite. I’m not aware of any research on driving and dictating.

Correction, there’s this: springerlink.com/content/5m57n0162w2v6684/
In-Car Dictation and Driver’s Distraction: A Case Study
Martin Labský, Tomáš Macek, Jan Kleindienst, Holger Quast and Christophe Couvreur

But it’s pretty inconclusive, and it’s for a somewhat different task – dictating with audio feedback, if I have understood correctly (in the ‘eyes free’ condition, which is the closest one to standard dictating).

I was deliberately careful in what I said – that there is not much doubt that engaging in a secondary task will reduce driver effectiveness. The amount of reduction must depend to some extent on the task, the driver, and various other factors as well, and whether or not it reaches danger point must depend on various factors, too. I felt the examples might be interesting to someone who has no knowledge of the whole question of divided attention, though they are obviously not quite the same as dictating while driving. Nevertheless, I would think that dictating something that would be worth reading later would require enough attention and mental processing to render one’s driving less effective than it would otherwise be. I used to be a gliding instructor, and it was normal to see a pupil’s flying deteriorate as the workload increased and they had to cope with more things. Hence the common dictum “aviate, navigate, communicate” – meaning that you should concentrate first on actually flying the aircraft (otherwise you will crash) and if you have any spare capacity left over, work out where you are, and provided you are coping with both of those, talk to people on the radio. It’s not a bad set priorities for driving, come to that. There are a few sad cases of cockpit voice recordings in commercial flying in which the last few seconds have the pilot saying something like "Hello Control, yes, we are now heading 180 degrees and approaching ". One of the problems I found with workload in flying was that it was often insidious – people got more and more overloaded and ragged without realising it. Some of them were relieved when you took over, as they were beginning to get uncomfortable without knowing why, but others would have crashed but had no sensation they were approaching the edge. Plenty of accidents in all sorts of environments are had by people who a moment before thought they were doing just fine.

Cheers, Martin.

Very interesting, Martin. I’m fascinated by all this stuff about attention and mistakes. I’m sure you are right about performance going down as workload goes up. I’m not sure, though, that I agree that dictating something worthwhile would require enough attention to render one’s driving less effective.
Part of the difficulty in assessing this theoretically (absent directly relevant evidence) is that there is probably more than one area in which attention is required: in perception for hazard detection, and in the attention required to take action.
Suppose that there is indeed an attentional bottleneck in the kind of attention required for action, and that we take actions that appear to be simultaneous by quickly switching between them. Still, in perception we are able to monitor a lot of different ‘channels’ (as they say in the literature) simultaneously. When this monitoring indicates conditions are difficult, I would expect the driver to break off dictating to concentrate on driving, thus avoiding the executive action bottleneck. I suppose that drivers do the same when talking to passengers. I guess I’m saying that people probably mostly already follow “aviate, navigate, communicate”, except on mobile phones (and radios), where it’s difficult to just stop a conversation, since the interlocutor doesn’t know you are in trouble, and will keep communicating with you and taking up your attention.

In the study I linked to, reaction times were slowed relative to the reference (i.e. just driving) condition by the interactive dictation task, but actual performance on lane-changing tasks was the same (within error).

In real world conditions, doing something cognitively demanding (such as dictating or talking to a passenger) might even be beneficial, since it may maintain alertness and prevent drowsiness.

Cognitive psychology is not my field (I’m a social psychologist, of sorts) so I don’t know about divided attention in any depth. But among the factors that must surely affect the ability to carry out two tasks at the same time must be individual differences. I knew of one very good glider pilot who was able to read a map and talk on the radio at the same time as still climbing in a thermal. I knew others who could barely climb in a thermal at all, even in the absence of any distractions. I believe I’m right in saying that there is evidence to show that those who score highly on extraversion benefit from having external stimuli (it improves their performance on some mental tasks) while introverts decline in effectiveness if subjected to external stimuli. Speaking as someone who is highly introverted, and can barely breathe and carry out a second task at the same time, I would challenge your view that dictating would not render one’s driving less effective – it would certainly destroy my ability to drive properly! But then I switch off my mobile phone and put it in the boot of the car while I’m driving, so there is no chance of any distractions. And I don’t like passengers talking to me while I drive, either. I’m highly sensitive to distractions of any sort whatever the circumstances. Moreover, I’m acutely aware of the faultiness of human perception. As a gliding friend once said to me, when the sky suddenly goes dark and you see the word “Dunlop” in large letters, you find yourself wondering how on earth you could possibly have failed to see another aircraft until it is (literally) on top of you. I’ve had enough of those “where the f… did that come from” experiences to make me very wary. In real world conditions, driving is not just a matter of changing lanes, of course, and just as the operations of driving may be very different, so may the roads. Driving on a German autobahn with several lanes is not like driving down a twisting Italian mountain road. To sum up, a few of us probably ought not to be let out in cars at all, while a few of us could probably make lobster thermidor at the same time as driving through London in the rush hour. Some are more skilled than others, some are older, and some are better at coping with many different stimuli at once. It would be interesting to carry out a study in which you tested for introversion / extraversion and also for driving performance while talking on the phone. You might get some interesting results. It would be worth looking at male / female differences, as well.

Cheers, Martin.

My spouse never understands why I can’t watch a foreign film, hear the dialogue, read English sub-titles, and still listen to her read me the latest intelligence from her iPad. She is a restless roamer in the world of information, and I have near-autistic concentration. I try to multi-task but fail badly; the best I can manage is soft jazz or classical in the background while I read or type.

For me, driving is not a matter of me staying alert but me watching the other damn fools who may leap the median and crash into me. In my journalist years, I often drove alone on assignments and had to check maps or make notes while going fast to get somewhere before sundown. My only technical aide at the time was a mini-tape recorder that I could click on, talk to for long minutes, and click off. But I did that out of necessity, and not as a regular habit.

Mark, the same kind of traffic jams are coming to east Africa, and none of those talking, texting drivers have either licenses or lessons!

I’m like Martin and Druid, I think. I hardly talk at all when driving; if the only passenger is my wife, I will probably not talk at all; if the passenger is someone I haven’t seen for a long time, or someone I don’t know well, they just have to put up with long periods of silence. I like having more than one passenger, then they can entertain themselves and leave me to get on with the job of driving; if those passengers are my wife and daughter, my experience is they go to sleep anyway, so that’s fine by me.

When I arrived in Xiamen — 1,560 square kilometres total; Xiamen Island, with the main conurbation, more or less circular 13 Km (8 miles) in diameter — at the end of May 2000, the population was ca. 2.2 million total, with about 1.2 million on the island, and there was the grand total of 5,600 private cars. That lasted until about 2005/6 when the central government decreed that people should be encouraged to buy cars to raise production and boost the economy. The figures are now total population of about 2.5 million (largely result of immigration from other parts of China, not the government’s decree!) with 1.5 million on the island, and private car ownership is somewhere around 750,000 — and no, I haven’t got the comma in the wrong place and too many 0s. 6 months ago, it seems sales of private cars in Xiamen had dropped … to roughly 3,000 new cars per month! As in all other aspects of development, China has developed so fast — we in the UK must have taken nearly 50 years for traffic to have grown in the same proportion as China’s has in 5 years — understanding of what this means for the road user and how to keep the flow going has not kept pace.

Over that time, the vast majority of those new cars have been in the hands of people who have just got their driving licence, whether through actually being tested — a process which involves virtually no open-road driving, even less in serious traffic — or simple cash bungs to driving instructors, and who as a result have had neglible experience of driving in traffic. Driving in China has three characteristics: (1) it is competitive, not co-operative; (2) it is based on reaction, not anticipation; (3) in general, although there is a book of traffic regulations several hundred pages long that they have to learn in order to pass their theoretical test, the attitude is, “The traffic regulations are excellent, but they don’t really apply to me” and in practice there is one working rule of the road … “Don’t hit anything in front of you”. And these are the people who are talking on their phones and sending text messages while driving.

I don’t drive in China. You really can’t anticipate what Chinese traffic is going to do, especially when those behind the wheel are more interested in their phones than in the other road users. I would, therefore, be a danger myself!


The whole thing got far oft topic, but anyway: I believe it is highly dangerous to hold your phone, dial or even type text notes while driving. A hands-free conversation is not much different from a conversation to a passenger (which is totally normal, despite to xiamese :laughing: ). Even though I have to admit that in the beginning, when mobile conversation was new to me, I found it distracting too. I think when talking to someone on the phone one automatically imagines this persons surrounding and thus gets carried away more than when talking to someone besides you. But now I got used to it and more feel like the person on the phone is in the car. So my mind stays in the car too. I hope I made myself clear, I´m not a native english-speaker.
As to dictating: I think about my stories while driving anyway. Speaking aloud won´t distract me more than that, I´m sure. And yes, I can stop when ever I want or when the traffic demands. There is an app, by the way, that stops recording when you stop talking, which is pretty cool for hands free-dictation (didn’t try it yet).
I´m still upset about the bluetooth fail.
But I will start making “normal” audio notes (again) and forget about dictation.

I think the evidence suggests that talking on the phone is more dangerous than talking to a person in the car with you. A big part of the reason why is that the person on the phone can’t see the traffic, and therefore doesn’t know when to shut up because you need to concentrate.

In my experience, there’s a big difference even between a passenger who is paying attention to the traffic, and one who isn’t.


You’re right … but then going off topic is almost de rigueur for a thread in a Scrivener forum.

But to take it back on topic, I think Dictation is amazing, but there are two issues in terms of using it while driving which I think are germane:

  1. you need to be logged on to the internet while you’re using it. I presume that if you’re on G3 that might be OK, but wonder how changes in signal strength and possible interruptions in the signal as you go along might affect the output;

  2. and more importantly, in my experience using a not-overloaded iPhone 4, I can only dictate a short stretch before it starts converting and doesn’t record further speech while it’s doing that. I have to pause until it has finished converting that bit and then continue. I presume this is down to the recording buffer filling up and needing to be processed and emptied. So I need to keep my attention on the iPhone if I am to dictate more than a pretty short sentence at a time. I would think that would be a serious problem while driving, either in terms of major distraction or in terms of missing text.

If anyone has other experience and/or a solution in the latter case, I’d love to know. It would be great if you could just record an audio-note in one go and then get it to process that.