Microsoft is adding an AI-powered transcription service to its Office suite.
A new feature for Word 365, Transcribe lets users upload or record audio files that are then transcribed and presented alongside Word documents.
Currently it is only available in English and in the browser version of Word which can be accessed with an Office 365 subscription – though Microsoft said it intends to roll out Transcribe in other languages and on mobile platforms in the future.
“Now more than ever, we’re all very busy—juggling family, work, friends, and whatever else life throws our way,” Microsoft said in announcing the Transcribe feature.
“New enhancements in Office leverage the Azure Cognitive Services AI platform so you can harness the power of your voice to spend less time and energy creating your best work and focus on what matters most.”
Transcribe is a solid integration of Azure’s speech-to-text capabilities, allowing users to easily edit transcriptions and throw pieces of text – or the whole thing – directly into a working document from a sleek sidebar.
To use Transcribe, users hit the arrow next to ‘Dictate’ in Word online’s ‘Home’ tab. From there they can choose to upload an audio file or start a new recording.
When Information Age tested the feature using a home NBN connection, it took Word about 35 minutes to transcribe a 30-minute, 15MB MP4 audio file.
Microsoft has put a five hour per month cap on the amount of audio users can upload, but it does allow unlimited transcripts of direct recordings into Word.
Independent AI transcript service Otter.ai gives free users 10 hours of transcribed audio per month but otherwise both services offer similar features and have similar difficulties.
Text-to-speech programs are rarely perfect – especially for conversations with background noise or large numbers of speakers – and both Otter.ai and Word can struggle to perfectly render non-American English accents, meaning users of both services will often have to listen back and make corrections to the generated transcript.
The great strength of Word Transcribe is its integration with Microsoft’s ubiquitous productivity software – even in limited browser form.
Microsoft is continuing to nudge users toward its rolling, subscription-based Microsoft 365 platform and away from the standalone Office suite with features like Transcribe that Office 2019 users are unlikely to see.
At $99 a year for a personal account – or $126 for a six-user ‘family’ account – Microsoft 365 is not cheap compared with the tech giant’s old one-time-payment model for Office, and especially when compared with the free Google Suite that includes similar, if less powerful, features.
A spokesperson for Otter.ai told Information Age the company wasn't concerned with Microsoft moving into its market.
“Otter.ai is platform-agnostic so users can transcribe any virtual meeting, collaborate with anyone, and share content without being confined in Microsoft’s 'walled garden',” the spokesperson said in an email.
“We see tremendous market opportunity to incorporate Otter.ai in all virtual meetings, online education, and live streaming events platforms.
“Microsoft Word is a slice of this much bigger pie."