Typing’s a pain on the iPhone, so why not dictate instead?

Typing’s a pain on the iPhone, so why not dictate instead?
Mac Tip #541, 20 June 2012

One of the things I love about my iPhone 4S is that I can save myself a lot of typing by dictating SMS messages, tweets and other chunks of text. Here’s how you can dictate text on your iPhone too.

This Tip is for the iPhone 4S using iOS 5. At the time of writing it doesn’t apply to older iPhones or other iOS devices.

Quick Start

  1. Activate Siri in Settings.
  2. Tap the microphone icon in a text field.
  3. Dictate a short chunk of text then tap Done.
  4. Wait for the speech to be converted to text by Apple’s servers.

Want more detail? Read the full Tip below.

Siri is a personal assistant that takes dictation too

The iPhone 4S includes a wonderful feature called Siri. Siri’s a personal assistant app that can do all kinds of things I’ll discuss in future Tips, but amongst them is taking dictation. And that can save all the aggravation of typing on a tiny keyboard, only to have Autocorrect jump in and turn your carefully crafted tweet to trash.

I commonly dictate tweets, SMS messages and short notes and find it really handy, though it’s important to check what the message actually says before sending.

Activate Siri

The settings for Siri are in the Settings app under General.

The settings for Siri are in the Settings app under General.

First activate Siri:

  1. Go to the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and tap on the General section.
  3. Tap on the Siri item. If necessary, tap the switch beside Siri to turn Siri on.

It’s now possible to dictate text using Siri, but you may wish to also choose a Language setting lower down on the Siri screen.

Specify settings for Siri, including Language.

Specify settings for Siri, including Language.

I live in New Zealand. Although we speak and write English somewhat differently from Australians, still our accent is closer to Australian than it is to UK or US English. For best results with dictation I selected English (Australia).

Open an app that accepts text

To use Siri for dictation open an app where you would normally type text, such as SMS messaging, Twitter, email, Notes or Reminders.

Tap in the text area as though to type a message. The onscreen keyboard appears.

Siri is listening to what you say.

Siri is listening to what you say, as the microphone shows.

Provided you’ve activated Siri, you should see a microphone icon to the left of the Spacebar.

Dictate a short amount of text

Tap the microphone icon to start dictating. The lower part of the screen turns grey and displays a glowing microphone and the word Done.

Dictate a short stretch of text, and when you’ve finished tap the Done button.

I have some tips for dictation below.

Siri sends the audio to servers for processing

Siri sends the audio to servers for processing.

Siri sends the audio to servers for processing.

Now there’s a bit of a delay while Siri sends the audio to Apple’s servers for processing into text. The screen displays 3 dots in shades of pink so you know something’s happening.

Because the text is sent to servers for processing and not converted to text by the iPhone itself you need either a working WiFi connection or a direct Internet connection via your service provider’s plan. This process uses some of your plan’s data.

Siri seems to not like yoghurt!

Siri seems to not like yoghurt!

If all goes well then pretty soon the pink dots are replaced by text, as in my shopping list in the screenshot above.

Beware the tricky bits

Sometimes when my cell connection has been weak the processing dots have been visible for a long time, then they disappear without being replaced by text. At that point I’ve had to start over or just type my text.

In the screenshot above you can see that apparently Siri doesn’t like yoghurt. I tried several times to add yoghurt to my shopping list, without success. Siri variously inserted you're back, new york, your bouts and other annoyingly incorrect alternatives. Be sure to check what Siri renders and don’t just blindly accept it as correct.

This is a good reason to keep your dictations brief, as you may have to repeat or correct them.

That said, Siri is surprisingly accurate most of the time.

Dictation tips

  1. Speak punctuation such as comma, period (or full stop), question mark, exclamation mark, open quote, close quote.
  2. Start a new line directly below the line above with: new line.
  3. Start a new paragraph — it leaves a blank line — with new paragraph.
  4. Pause very slightly before and after punctuation and other commands to make it clearer that it’s a command and not just part of the flow of text.
  5. If you dictate a phone number Siri may recognise it as a series of digits. In a shopping list though, Siri may convert 3 apples to three apples. In that case, try using the command word numeral: numeral 3 apples newline numeral 4 bananas.

Have fun dictating text with Siri and let us know what tips and tricks you discover. A future Tip will explain how to use Siri in an assistant role.

Please let us know how this Tip helped you. To leave a comment if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed please visit the Tip at the MacTips website. There should be a link from the title.

Related posts

[wpzon keywords="pressure cooker" sindex="PCHardware" snode="1232597011" sort="salesrank" listing="8"]


  1. Garry said:

    Excellent article, great tips! In fact I’m dictating this comment right now. One thing I would like to know, something which has been really confusing me, is how to dictate the command for a new item whilst in the reminders app. Is there a command for that?

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      That’s easy, Gary. Whether you have Reminders open or not, call up Siri and say:

      “Remind me at 2 pm to call Chris.”

      or whatever your reminder actually is. Siri should just accept it and ask if she should go ahead and create it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. :-)



  2. Simon Woodward said:

    Dictating with Siri can be both fun and frustrating.

    But you can take it to an even higher level if you install Mobile Mouse on your iPh4S & Mobile Mouse Server on your Mac. Then, you can dictate into Apps like Word, Mail etc straight onto your Mac with its bigger screen.

Comments are closed.