OS X Mavericks: How to control your Mac with your voice

While it doesn't offer Siri (yet) you can already control your Mac using speech – you can even add more spoken word commands using Automator.

OS X Mavericks: How to control your Mac with your voice

Listening Mac

Enabling speech control in OS X Mavericks is easy. Apple offers this in System Preferences>Accessibility>Speakable Items (at the bottom of the list).

In Speakable Items in the Settings pane set Speakable Items to On, and calibrate your microphone. By default, Speakable Items requires you press a key (usually Esc) to make your Mac listen, but tick the 'Listen continuously with keyword' button to make your Mac do just that. You'll be asked to name the word and say how often it is required. For my keyword I used “Mac”, but Macworld’s Lex Friedman uses "Siri".

Your Mac is now continuously listening for your commands. To invoke a command you just speak the keyword, followed by a command. A full list of supported commands is available in the Commands pane within Speakable Items.

Samples include:

  • "Mac, what time is it?"
  • "Mac, show me what to say"
  • "Mac, start screen saver."

While these commands aren’t as sophisticated as Siri, you can navigate between documents and apps, send messages and more.

Warning: While writing this feature I grew annoyed with how unresponsive spoken commands sometimes seem to be -- my Mac seems to want me to speak my commands in a Dalek-like staccato monotone.

OS X Mavericks: How to control your Mac with your voice

Adding commands

Automator lets you create other spoken word commands. The following examples should show you how to do it.

Launch essential apps

  • Launch Automator and choose Application.
  • Use the search field in Actions to find the Launch Application script, then drag-&-drop that script into the right of the Automator Window.
  • Each time you put this script into that window you'll see a drop down menu appear in which you can select the app you want to launch, or use Other to manually choose the app.
  • Repeat for each app -- in this case I've set up an action to launch Calendar, Safari and Word.
  • Once you've created a script to launch your essential apps, select Save in the File Menu.
  • In the File Format drop down menu at the bottom of the Save screen, select Speakable Item, then name the item with the phrase you wish to use (“Get to work” in my case).
  • Saving as a Speakable Item should enable you to launch these apps on your Mac by speaking the keyword followed by the phrase.

TUAW has a video of this.

Quick Reminder

You can ask your Mac to open up a new Reminder action.

  • Launch Automator, choose Application, and in Calendar choose New Reminders Item.
  • Drag it to the right hand pane.
  • In the Options dialog select Show this action when the workflow runs.
  • Save as a Speakable Item and name it “Quick reminder”.

In future you’ll be able to open a New Reminder window by speaking your Mac’s name and saying “Quick Reminder”


  • Using the same basic steps open a new Automator Window, choose Application and in Music choose Pause iTunes.
  • Save this as a Speakable Item.

In future if a call comes in, simply say your Mac’s name and the phrase “Pause iTunes” and the music will stop. You can create a similar command using the Start iTunes Playing item from the Music commands library in Automator.

When creating new commands it is essential to save each relevant application as a Speakable Item and to name the command with the phrase you hope to use.

I hope you have a little fun with this – hopefully without speaking like a Dalek. Next time we look at this topic we will spend time using VoiceOver and added Accessibility features.

Mavericks Tips and Tricks

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