One of the reasons I was reluctant to move to the iPhone from the Blackberry was my fondness for an actual keyboard. The virtual keyboard on many smart phones is a challenge for older phone users, Blackberry and Palm phone addicts, and others who are used to the tactile feedback of actual buttons.
Google has offered voice recognition for its search engine for smart phones for a while now—a neat feature that only occasionally results in confusing results. But now you can get voice recognition software for your smart phone from Nuance Communications that does a whole lot more than just search Google.
Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software has been available on PCs for years. Now Nuance offers free and not-so-free Dragon apps that work on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
The free apps from Nuance are Dragon Search and Dragon Dictation. Dragon Search lets you speak a search phrase into your iPhone, and then quickly summons up results not just from Google, but from several other sources: Wikipedia, Twitter, YouTube, and the Apple iTunes Store. The results seem to come up a lot faster than they do in Google's search application.
Then there's Dragon Dictation, which turns your speech into text that can be used in a number of ways. Straight from the app, you can send it as an e-mail, Twitter "tweet", Facebook status update, or SMS text message. You can also press a virtual button to copy your text to the "clipboard" to be pasted into another app, like the iPhone's Notes app.
Dragon Dictation lets you correct its dictation with some taps on the screen—each word can be tapped to offer alternative words or capitalization, or to be deleted. You can also resort to the virtual keyboard to make corrections. I found it to be almost 90 percent accurate right out of the blocks for me. I just had to keep reminding myself that I needed to "say" the punctuation in my sentences, explicitly saying "comma" or "period" or "exclamation point" when I want one.
Right now, the only other smart phone that has a Dragon app is, ironically, the Blackberry. Nuance offers Dragon For E-Mail for the Blackberry Bold, Bold 2, Curve, Storm, and Tour (depending on your carrier). It works in a similar way to Dragon Dictation, turning the words you say into text for an e-mail message.
Nuance is also beginning to offer more specialized tools based on Dragon. For example, on August 19, the company released Dragon Medical Mobile Search, the first of what the company says will be four applications specifically for the medical community. Dragon Medical Mobile Search lets clinicians dictate medical terms into an iPhone and get quick results from not just Google, but several online medical sources: Medscape, Intelligent Medical Objects, Drugs.mobi, and Medline (a service of the National Institute of Health's National Library of Medicine). Like Dragon Search, this app is free in Apple's App Store.