Talk to FileMaker Pro on a Macintosh


Macs have had a built-in speech recognition system since the last version of OS X, Mountain Lion. Apparently things have been improved in the new version and I have been playing around with Mac OS X Mavericks latest iteration with FileMaker Pro to enter notes into text fields and even do numeric data entry.

Set up is very simple and the results may surprise you. This technique should work on any version of FileMaker that will still run on Mavericks as it is operating system dependent rather than FileMaker version dependent.

Dictating to FileMaker Pro

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I did a screen capture recording of myself talking to FileMaker. Once it is setup, (in the System Preferences) the Dictation button is invoked by pressing your preferred key combination. Then I speak and the text is entered into a field. I am pressing the tab key to move between fields. The postal code field was a problematic entry on this record. I also noticed that when entering an email address, it had trouble joining the name ‘Joe and Brown’ into ‘joebrown@gmail.com’. This could be fixed with tighter data entry controls to remove spaces from the email address field. It did recognize saying ‘At gmail.com’ as @gmail.com.

The map appears because it is calculated based on the address. I am using the canned Contacts database from FileMaker’s Starter Solutions. Once enough address information is entered, it automatically does a Google Map search.

Select System Preferences: Dictation & Speech

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From the Apple Menu, select System Preferences and then click on the icon for Dictation & Speech.

Dictation Tab

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  1. Turn Dictation On
  2. Turn on ‘Use Enhanced Diction’
  3. Select your language
  4. Select the Shortcut to turn on Dictation

Enhanced Dictation = Local interpretation

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I chose the option for ‘Use Enhanced Dictation’ because apparently that keeps the information from going to an Apple Server, and instead the work gets done on my computer. When you first turn ‘Use Enhanced Dictation’ you will have to download a fairly hefty file, about 500 MBs, more depending on your language selected.

About Dictation and Privacy

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In the About Dictation and Privacy info box, they explain that if security is a concern, choosing the option for Enhanced Dictation which means your computer does the work, instead of going to one of Apple’s servers for interpretation. Not only is the ‘Use Enhanced Dictation’ more secure, it is also faster. The only downside seems to be the download.

Shortcut options to turn on Dictation

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You can enter your own custom shortcut or use one of the suggested ones.

Select a Voice input

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I use my laptop plugged into a large monitor, so I have a Logitech Camera plugged in for Skype etc. I chose Logitech Camera, but usually you would just use the built-in internal microphone.

Back in FileMaker, Start Dictating

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Click into a field and use the keyboard shortcut you have chosen to invoke the Dictation icon. Mac OS X is now listening to your chosen microphone and awaiting input. Speak some text out loud enough for your microphone to hear it. You may want to warn your office mates what you are doing, so they don’t assume the worst.

Sample text dictation

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The dictation system is not perfect, so you need to review your input regularly. Watching the input, it seems to get things right sometimes and then proceed to lose it. Still it could be a time saver if you are a slow typist or are inputting similar material each time. The Dictation function also understands common punctuation such as ‘period’, ‘comma’ etc.

Input numbers

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The dictation engine seems to be smart enough to enter numbers as well. It starts out entering ‘Six Zero Four…’ etc, but then seems to realize it is a sequence of numbers and switches to numeric entry. The spaces between the numbers are created by giving a slight pause between speaking each set of numbers.

Make it go away

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To hide the Dictation icon, simply repeat the same key sequence you used to invoke it. In my case, I hit ‘Command, Command’ and it goes away. Alternatively, you can click the ‘Done’ button below the Dictation icon. I noticed that some FileMaker actions also cause it to go away, for instance Command A for Select All, will hide the Dictation icon. The Tab key does not hide the icon, it just moves it to the next field for more data entry.

Caveats

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If a field is set to a pop-up menu, the Dictation can’t be invoked. The field needs to be open enough to allow text or numeric entry.

Letters and Numbers

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I was attempting to enter a Canadian Postal Code here, ‘V5K 1A9’ and instead I got ‘The 5K 19’. It doesn’t seem to do very well on this type of task.

Go to Next Object Using ‘Return’

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I attempted to further automate my data entry further, eliminating the need for the data entry person to hit the tab key to move between fields. Dictation seems to recognize when you say ‘New Paragraph’ or ‘New Line’ and it enters a carriage return. I thought it might respond if I set the ‘Go to next object using’ a Return. No such luck, it seems to be entering soft returns and it stays in the field.

Not perfect

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Dictation is certainly not fool proof, there are often Egg Freckles moments, but there may be instances when using Dictation could speed up data entry in FileMaker.

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