Nuance Adapts Its Desktop Dragon Dictation Software For Mobile Devices

People who find it easier to write reports and other text documents by using Nuance Communications’ Dragon dictation software for the desktop will soon have another option—dictating from their mobile devices.

Burlington, MA-based Nuance (NASDAQ: NUAN) announced the launch of four new products today—including updates of its desktop software. But the really new twist is its mobile application Dragon Anywhere.

Mobile device users can already dictate short posts such as text messages through built-in functions such as Apple’s Siri and Google Voice for Android devices. The Dragon Anywhere service allows them to dictate lengthy documents, and also edit and format them with voice commands. They’ll be able to move blocks of text, insert phrases, and mark words in bold or italics, for example.

What makes this possible is that the user’s speech will be processed by Nuance’s Web-based voice recognition engines, rather than by the internal processing power of the device alone. The text transcription will be preserved in Web-based storage, and can be exported to the cloud storage spot of the users’ choice, such as Dropbox or their company’s server. Individuals can use any number of their personal devices with their Dragon Anywhere accounts.

Dragon Anywhere can serve as a standalone product, but its output can also be integrated with the revamped desktop programs Nuance also announced today— Dragon Professional Individual, Dragon Professional Group, and version 5 of Dragon for Mac.

Using a combination of Dragon products, travel writers could dictate their first impressions of a new city into a device, send the text to a cloud storage site, and then open the file once they’re back at the office with the desktop Dragon Professional Individual software, which they can use to do revisions and fine editing with voice commands.

Social service workers could dictate field reports into their smartphones and store them in a shared server managed by their agencies, which could use the desktop Dragon Professional Group software to manage and work with the incoming files. Businesses can buy a group version of Dragon Anywhere with user-based licensing for staffers in the field.

Dragon desktop dictation software has long been an alternative to keyboard work for hunt-and-peck typists, people with repetitive strain injury or other physical limitations, and workers such as doctors who must produce large numbers of reports. Now, with its networked mobile products, Nuance is bidding for a broader market among tens of millions of professionals such as lawyers, law enforcement officers, and building inspectors, as well as the organizations they work for, says Peter Mahoney, chief marketing officer for the company’s Dragon line. No competitor offers a similar product, he maintains.

“Dragon Anywhere is unique; there’s nothing like it,” Mahoney says. Existing voice-to-text transcription features on mobile devices “time out” after a limited batch of speech, while Dragon Anywhere lets the speaker talk on at will, he says.

Some new Dragon customers may come from the ranks of workers who have been quite content to type in the office, but now have an increasing need to produce full text documents on the go with their devices, Mahoney says.

“Typing in a mobile world is just not a very good alternative,” Mahoney says.

Dragon Professional Group is currently available at $600. The Dragon Anywhere mobile app for iOS and Android will be sold this fall through the App Store and Google Play as a subscription service at $15 per month or $150 a year.

Downloads (with perpetual licenses) of Dragon Professional Individual will cost $300; for the new Dragon for Mac it’s $200. Individual customers who have older versions of Dragon Professional and Dragon for Mac will get discounts if they upgrade to the corresponding new products.

Nuance is billing its Web-connected product suite as a productivity booster for businesses and other organizations, with the slogan “Voice is ready for work.” The usefulness of Dragon Anywhere may depend on the specific circumstances for each worker. For example, a lawyer would need a private spot to speak aloud about confidential litigation matters while working outside the office. Mahoney says social service case workers now retreat to their cars to dictate reports about a visit they’ve just made to a family needing help.

Professionals reporting out loud on confidential or proprietary information will also need their private spot to have a good Internet connection. Dragon Anywhere relies on Nuance’s Web-based processing to produce voice transcripts. Mobile users can’t record their dictation off-line and then submit an audio file for transcription by the app, Mahoney says. But he says Wifi connections are improving.

However, employers will probably need their cybersecurity experts to assess the risks of dictating long documents via a variety of non-company Wifi networks in the field.

Dragon Anywhere doesn’t require new users to spend time training the app to recognize their particular accents or cadences, Mahoney says. The app adapts to an individual’s voice quickly, and it continues to improve in accuracy over time, he says. Users can customize the app by introducing specialized professional terms or place names. These modifications can be shared with an entire staff using Dragon Professional Group, with its Nuance User Management Center.

Dragon Anywhere does not tackle the supreme challenge for voice-to-text technology: the transcription of conversations between two or more people. Writers and researchers still rely on relatively costly transcription services to get full text versions of their interviews, for example. Mahoney says Dragon Anywhere was not designed to transcribe a multi-voice conversation. If a person other than the Dragon user speaks into the device’s microphone, the quality of the transcription would be degraded, he says.

The workarounds to get a multi-voice transcription are a bit cumbersome. The Dragon Anywhere user could repeat another person’s statements into the device microphone, Mahoney says. Or, the second person’s statements could be recorded on an audio file and processed by one of the desktop Dragon versions. The Dragon desktop user might have to habituate the program to the second person’s voice by making corrections to the first minute or so of the transcript, he says.

The lack of fully accurate multi-voice transcribing leaves a niche still open to audio transcription services such as Berkeley, CA-based TranscribeMe, which uses a combination of voice recognition software and human transcribers.

The developers of Nuance’s new suite of synched mobile and desktop products benefited from the company’s experiences with voice-to-text in a number of settings, which allowed them to explore the potential of both mobile and cloud storage, Mahoney says.

Nuance created a Web-based dictation service customized for medical professionals who work at hospitals with low-end computer terminals. In 2012, Nuance launched a free mobile app, Dragon Dictation, that Mahoney says was the first voice-to-text product for mobile devices. It was limited to short sentences, however, like the voice-based texting functions now built into smartphones, he says. Nuance also provided voice technology for consumer electronics makers.

The Dragon Dictation app is now less used than Siri and other voice-to-text mobile features built into iOS and Android devices, Mahoney says. Nuance, which is focusing on the professional market for document creation, is not trying to recapture the consumer market for quick bursts of text communication.

“Free alternatives for sending a quick note will continue to be used,” Mahoney says.

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