How to use Voice Control in macOS Catalina

Here's an introductory guide to using your voice to control your Mac once you upgrade to the latest version of macOS.

Apple, Mac, macOS, Mac OS, Catalina, OS X, Voice Control, Accessibility, How to

Apple’s introduction of Voice Control in macOS Catalina is life-transforming for many users, a convenience for some, and a little fun for others. Here is an introduction to using Voice Control on a Mac running macOS Catalina when it's released.

How to enable Voice Control on your Mac

Apple says Voice Control is more capable of understanding the context of what it is asked. Built on Siri’s accurate voice recognition engine, it's been tweaked for use in dictation and can be used with all your applications.

One example highlighted by Apple is when a person using Messages on their Mac dictates, “Happy Birthday tap send." Voice Control should be able to tell where the message ends and the send instruction begins – and then send the message “Happy Birthday."

This makes Voice Control a much better dictation system than the Enhanced Dictation Apple provided in previous editions of Mac OS/macOS.

Voice Control is disabled by default. To turn it on, go to System Preferences>Accessibility>Voice Control and click the Enable Voice Control checkbox.

Voice Control will use the language you've configured for your Mac by default, but you can select another language if you are dictating in a different tongue. (You may also need to select a microphone; the internal one will be chosen by default.)

How to reach Voice Control

Once you’ve set up Voice Control, you’ll find a new microphone icon on the lower right of your Desktop, just above the Trash. Click it to wake Voice Control, click again to put it back to sleep. The icon shows you the current language and instructions to Wake Up or Sleep.

Once you have enabled Voice Control, your Mac will listen for your commands. You do not need to be online for Voice Control to work.

Here are some essential commands

There are a variety of commands that should come in handy for Voice Control, but there are some you really need to know about:

  • Open
  • Quit
  • Hide
  • New item
  • Search
  • Open Spotlight
  • Zoom
  • Close
  • Copy
  • Paste
  • Format text
  • Delete That – Voice Control understands this to mean delete what you have just typed.

You should review all of Apple’s available commands in System Preferences>Accessibility>Voice Control – tap the Commands button. Here you will see all the commands for different functions and can click on each one to see options for what it does.

Recognized Open Siri-related commands include Open Siri, Show Siri, Launch Siri and Switch to Siri, for example. You will also see that in each case there’s a checkbox beside each command. You can use this to uncheck a command you don’t want Voice Control to understand.

macos catalina voice control Apple

How to replace words and phrases

You can replace phrases by name, so you might say: “Replace 'I will be late' with 'I’m not going to make it.'"

You can also get more accurate in your word selections using phrases like “Move up two lines… Select previous word. Italicize that.”

How to add new commands

You can create your own commands, similar to how Keyboard Shorcuts are set up. You might want to do this in order to create a shortcut for placing a letterhead or writing specific phrases. I have one I use in order to write ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in those apps that support this.

You can also add commands for specific phrases or actions you prefer:

  • Tap the Commands button in Voice Control.
  • Tap the plus button underneath the list of commands.
  • Enter the command phrase in the ‘When I say box.
  • You use the While Using dropdown menu to define whether this works in a certain app or all of your applications.
  • In the Perform item, you can choose which actions take place in response to the command you create:
    • Open Finder Items.
    • Open URL.
    • Paste Text.
    • Paste Data.
    • Press Keyboard Shortcut.
    • Select Menu.
    • Run Workflow.
  • Tap Done and the new command will be made available.

Voice Control also lets you navigate.

How to use Voice Control to navigate your Mac

We’ve learned how to use Voice Control to open apps and initiate commands, but Apple has figured out an effective way to use voice to replace touchpad/mouse navigation on your Mac. This is a system based on three things:

  • Numbers
  • Grids
  • Names

These work with navigation commands, accessibility labels and voice gestures (open, close, select, and so on).

Numbers: When you say “Show Numbers” you will see numbers appear beside all the clickable items on your Mac’s screen. You can use a number to select a Menu item, open it, and then choose the newly-appearing numbers that mark each selection in the contextual menu that appears.

So, to open a new document in Word you could say “Show Numbers," speak the number that appears above the File menu item, and then choose the digit denoting the New Document command in that application. (Or just say “Open New Document in Word.")

Grids: The problem with numbers is that these only appear next to clickable items on screen, but not everything we do on a Mac is clickable – selecting elements of an image or using a color meter, for example.

If you ever need to access part of the display that is not numbered, the “Show grid” command puts a grid on your screen. Each grid is numbered, so you can use that number to select the area containing the item you want to touch.

A new grid will be created comprising the area of the chosen grid, and smaller grids will appear in that space. Just keep selecting from these increasingly accurately placed grids until the item is clearly selected; then you can choose action commands such as tap, zoom and drag for that item.

Names: Catalina supports Accessibility labels for buttons, links and other on-screen elements. If you’ve not used these before, you can ask Voice Control to “Show Names” and these will appear on your Mac.

You can also record sequences of gestures to create recorded commands.

What about when I don’t want to use Voice Control?

Voice Control supports four Interaction Modes that help you control when it's used:

  • Dictation Mode: Use this to dictate and use voice commands.
  • Command Mode: Voice commands only (no dictation).
  • Go to sleep: Pause.
  • Wake Up: Resume.

What about security?

Apple says that Voice Control handles all the audio processing it needs to understand your different commands on the Mac. Nothing is shared with Apple or over the internet. (It is important to note that the older Enhanced Dictation/Dictation features are not protected in this way; these actually do send what you say to Apple for processing.)

You can only use one of these systems at any one time, so if Voice Control is active, the older Dictation software is not.

Let me know if you make use of the powerful voice first feature, and eb sure to share any useful tips or how it helps you.

Further reading:

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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