Angry your dictation button has gone gray and useless? Here's a fix that's only slightly less annoying!

Dictation is a fantastic, Siri-like service on iPhone and iPad that, at the tap of a mic button, transforms what you say out loud into text on the screen. But sometimes that mic button ghosts over, grays out, and otherwise becomes un-tabble. That kills the natural-language interface, makes apps less accessible, and can otherwise stop your productivity dead.

It rarely happens with built-in apps like Messages (though it does sometimes), but it's happening quite often with third party apps, especially Twitter clients. It, of course, should never, not ever happen. iOS should do everything it needs to to keep that button live. But it seems, based on my own tests and talking to a few developers, that when memory gets low, iOS turns off Dictation. Sigh.

However, since memory does seem to be the issue, there's an easy if annoying fix:

Kill all apps in the fast app switcher to free up memory.

It's a waste of time but it has its uses and this is one of them. As soon as whatever's sitting in the background -- doing what it shouldn't be doing, eating up all the memory it should't be eating -- is defenestrated from the system, the Dictation button will de-gray and come roaring back to life.

Hopefully Apple fixes this in iOS 7, and the Dictation button just works and keeps on working. Meanwhile, anyone found a better way to fix this?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Angry your dictation button has gone gray and useless? Here's a fix that's only slightly less annoying!


I'm on an iPhone 4 with the latest iOS 6 updates. I haven't seen the microphone key for I don't know how long. Had actually forgot about it.

Thanks for the tip. I've been resetting the whole phone when my microphone got grayed out.

I've been told force quitting apps was unnecessary on the iPhone, but even when there are no performance issues, having a gazillion app icons make the fast switcher quite cumbersome for the mere task of switching. Nice to know that quitting apps has another benefit.

I don't know why so many bloggers insist that manually quitting apps in iOS is /unnecessary/, and here's yet more proof that it *IS*, in fact, necessary in some cases. Check out ActMonitor in the app store; it shows you how much free memory you have and which apps are hogging it (similar to Activity Monitor on the Mac). Here's hoping iOS 7 is better at stopping memory leaks--though running apps in the background will always create some tradeoffs in performance.

Apps are not really running in the background on iOS. They are paused but and to remember where you left off, it leaves a memory footprint in RAM. CPU is not working when apps are in this state. I'm this case though, RAM being taken up by apps not actually running any CPU processes cause the voice dictation to shut off.

That is not true in *many* cases. In iOS 6 there are enough ways to background a task that many apps take advantage of them. Facebook being one of them. I kill that one all the time.

It is much, much less necessary than anyone who says it is necessary thinks. Think of it more like reformatting your PC and re-installing the OS from scratch then rebooting. Everyone says you should reformat every week, when waiting until you buy a new PC is good enough for most people.

The only apps running in the background on iOS are the built-in apps (some of them some of the time) and apps using one of the approved background services - location/navigation, playing audio, finishing a file download.

Reformatting your PC every week & re-installing the OS?!? That's crazy talk. That sort of activity shouldn't be needed ever or, at most, once a year or two for most people. Not sure if you meant to just reboot your phone every week. That wouldn't hurt anything and doesn't take too long. Clearly it'll free up all the memory if there's any issues there.

I restored my Iphone 4s with ios 7.3 a few days ago and lost my mic. After a bit of research I realized Siri was working properly either. After turning Siri back on under settings, general, ... the mic came back as well. Easy fix. -vivian gale-

Thank you very much. What an obscure bug. I could not figure out why Fantastical would not allow me to dictate an appointment.

I've noticed that the Dictation microphone is greyed out most often for me in the Music app. But this doesn't make sense as I was just using Dictation in Messages.

Rene: any follow up to this post?

Thank you so much. I have arthritis in my fingers and when that thing would gray out I would be hopeless and helpless. Now I just make voicos instead of typos