Mac OS X El Capitan: Dictation Workflows

Another year, another release of Mac OS X, this time nicknamed El Capitan, or version 10.11 (if you’re keeping track of that). For those who paid attention to the announcement of this release back in June, a bad omen revealed itself when Craig Federighi took the stage, mentioned three categories of updates, and immediately went to a demo. Historically, going straight to a demo meant you had nothing to tease, and that conclusion came quickly as he went through the new features. After seeing the demo it seemed as if El Cap was going to include features that, honestly, could have easily been adopted in Yosemite (10.10) with little effort. I’m certainly one of those who felt a little disappointment, initially, but hey, my OS upgrades were still free so I wasn’t complaining.

However, to further cement the disenchantment, the list of features for this upgrade, which only gets published once the upgrade is available for download, includes just shy of one hundred additions or changes. This isn’t a small number by any means but it is the first time I’ve seen a feature list for a new desktop OS with less than one hundred items when the average has been around two hundred.

Having said all that, there are still some interesting additions here that deserve the spotlight. Just, not many. Let’s start with one that builds upon a Yosemite feature that turned out to be a terrific idea.

Dictation Commands

Mac OS X Yosemite introduced an enhancement to the popular Dictation feature where commands could be given by speaking them, and it could do things like edit text or position the cursor. It also allowed for creating your own Dictation workflows which was terrific if you used Automator to build all sorts of automated processes. El Capitan doesn’t provide a slew of new features to add to the mix here, but it does inlay an idea that might be of some use in the future.

To try it out, open System Preferences, go to Accessibility, and scroll down the list on the left to Dictation. Open the Dictation Commands… dialog, check off “Enable advanced commands” if it’s not already checked, and hit the plus in the bottom left. Click the menu next to Perform… and hover over Run Workflow. Revealed are ten commands that are now available as dictation commands, and these are worth trying out. “Take my picture,” for instance, will make the screen flash and the resulting photo will be automatically imported into the Photos app.

Fun Times with Picture Taking

What I like about this feature isn’t so much what it can do right now (although I can see dictating a command to start a new recording in Quicktime, or to show the top movies and music in iTunes, as being rather useful), but what it could do if the team really puts focus on this as they do with upgrading Siri. It still seems silly to me that Siri doesn’t exist on Mac OS X yet, considering that Dictation has been playing a Siri-like part for years at this point, but certainly there is so much that OS X is capable of that the appearance of this feature means they could be heading in that direction soon. A key point to consider here is the how these tasks are considered “workflows,” as if all Siri-like functions are actually just Automator workflows. I have been advertising the power of Automator for years, and if this brings more attention to Otto (the Automator robot), then this could be the start of something truly magical later.

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