Using Speakable Items for Fun and Profit (or at least for fun)

Besides all of the really useful features that makes OS X stand out from Windows, there is also the spoken user interface (also known as speakable items). This nifty (big) little feature gives demonstrates how well polished the operating really is. The spoken user interface was developed mainly to assist people with disabilities, but since most macs also have built in microphones, anyone can use it. Instead of interacting with the computer using the keyboard and mouse, you can speak commands. The commands range from the simple telling you what day it is, to sending an email to someone in your address book (it will recognize their names too).

You can activate the spoken user interface under the “Speech” section of System Preferences. The system preferences screen looks like this:


Speech Preferences


Your first task is to enable speakable items by clicking the “on” radio button next to “Speakable Items”. Normally, this will enable your Mac’s internal microphone to start listening for voice commands as well as display the Speakable items interface window. I’ve noticed the microphones that come with macs are very sensitive to background noise so once you turned on speakable items you will want to click on the calibrate button to adjust the mic’s sensitivity as well as test your Mac’s “ears”.The calibration screen looks like this:


Speech Calibration Window



The speech recognition software can adapt itself to the person speaking and so calibration helps your mac “learn” your voice. The phrases to the left are actual commands your mac understands (there are lots more). Go ahead and calibrate, it’s a great moment when your mac hears you for the first time.

With speakable items on, you’re probably noticed a new little window appear that looks something like this:


Speakable Items Interface Window



This is the speakable items interface. The “Esc” means that I have to press the Escape key in order for my Mac to listen for voice commands. You can change that to another key in Speech Preferences. Also, you can have your mac listen for a special word instead of pressing a key. The little down arrow will bring up a menu where you can open a list of available speech commands or go to the speech system preferences. There is an impressive number of commands to help you accomplish tasks simply by using your voice. My personal favorite is still “Tell me a joke”. You really haven’t experienced all that OS X has to offer until it tells you a joke (or two).