Walt Mossberg

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Taking Dictation

Q:

Can I hook up my iPhone to my iMac and dictate into a word processor? Or should I just dictate into the Notes app on the iPhone and send that by email? I am executor of my mom’s estate and she left a lot of written memories that I want to compile into a book for family members. It would be a lot easier to dictate than to type them all.

A:

As far as I know, the iPhone can’t be used as a dictation appendage for a computer. You’d have to dictate into a document on the phone and transfer that to the computer. But you don’t have to use Apple’s Notes app.

There are many apps on iPhone and Android that can produce documents in Microsoft Word format which, when transferred to a PC or Mac, can be opened right in Word. Examples are Quickoffice, Documents To Go, and Apple’s own Pages. You can use dictation with all of these.

Q:

Enjoyed your article on using smartphones to turn dictation into text. I have recently become interested in various inexpensive devices that can record professors’ lectures into text. Do you think that the iPhone or Android phones can do that from a long distance, say, in back of the class?

A:

Anything is possible, but it’s not what the dictation features are designed to do, and I didn’t test that scenario. I doubt it would be very reliable or accurate.

The microphones on smartphones are typically designed to focus on a single voice close to the phone and to ignore the details of more distant sounds. It might work in a small, quiet seminar room with a professor whose voice is loud and clear, but I’m skeptical it would work in the back row of a large hall.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.


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