Voice Control Baked into macOS Catalina

Microphone and speech lines over a woman using a laptop

Mac users, if you've been waiting for a reason to upgrade to macOS Catalina, here it is. Catalina ships with a native Voice Control feature, and it’s the best thing since sliced banana bread. It’s one of Apple's powerful Accessibility features, baked right into the operating system.

With short, simple commands Voice Control can be used to navigate, operate applications, and dictate text. This opens up possibilities for people with limited mobility or dexterity and breaks down barriers for anyone who can’t operate a mouse or a keyboard. 

Devs, this is a Game-Changer

Voice Control is definitely not the first software of its kind. Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been around since the ’90’s. It, unfortunately, comes with a price tag that puts it out of reach for a lot of people. There's also an OS-wide voice control feature for Windows 10. So, what makes Mac Voice Control so special? It’s part of a greater trend of making rich accessibility features native to the operating system, making assistive technology widely available, without an additional sticker price.

This is great for developers like me who want to test web apps for accessibility. WCAG 2.1 offers new guidelines that are meant to address the specific needs of voice control. Label in Name is a great example. Does your button text match its programmatic name? I can’t activate a button without knowing (and speaking) its proper name! For a complete breakdown of guidelines, you can check out what else is new in WCAG 2.1

Getting Started

Apple has a great guide on how to use Voice Control on your Mac. I’ll give you the quick version:

  1. Visit System Preferences > Accessibility > Voice Control.  
  2. Configure your Language and Microphone settings, if you choose.
  3. Click Enable Voice Control.

Notice a new popup control appear in the lower right corner of your screen. It’s a microphone icon, indicating that your computer is listening. Great!

macOS Catalina Desktop with Voice Control widget enabled and listening

Start by speaking a few simple commands. Try these ones:

  1. Speak, “Show Commands." You’ll see a dropdown appear with a list of available voice commands. 
  2. Speak, "Open Music." This will open Apple's new Music app.
  3. Speak, "Show Numbers." In Voice Control, you can pick between controls by speaking their assigned numbers.

Apple Music app with Voice Control numbers displayed on each interactive control

Keep Exploring

There's so much to learn about Voice Control, and so much to explore. You can even Enable, Disable, and Create Custom Commands for Voice Control. If you're already a Mac user like me, you can do all of this testing, learning, and exploration at no extra cost.

Happy speaking!