Dictaphone was an American company, a producer of dictation machines—sound recording devices most commonly used to record speech for later playback or to be typed into print. The name "Dictaphone" is a trademark, but in some places it has also become a common way to refer to all such devices, and is used as a genericized trademark. At present, Dictaphone is a division of Boston-based Nuance Communications.
The Dictaphone's earliest development occurred at the Volta Laboratory established by Alexander Graham Bell in Washington, D.C. in 1881. When the Laboratory's sound recording inventions were sufficiently developed, Bell and his associates created the Volta Graphophone Company, which later merged with the American Graphophone Company, which itself later evolved into Columbia Records.
The name "Dictaphone" was trademarked by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1907, which soon became the leading manufacturer of such devices. This perpetuated the use of wax cylinders for voice recording. They had fallen out of favor for music recordings, in favor of disc technology. Dictaphone was spun off into a separate company in 1923 under the leadership of C. King Woodbridge.
After relying on wax cylinder recording through the end of World War II, in 1947 Dictaphone introduced their Dictabelt technology, which cut a mechanical groove into a plastic belt instead of into a wax cylinder. This was later replaced by magnetic sound sheet recording, which was sold until 1979. Magnetic tape recorders were introduced in the late seventies, initially using the standard "C" cassette (originally developed by Philips, and the de facto standard for music cassettes). This was quickly followed by the release of recorders using Mini-Cassettes (also developed by Philips, but for the dictation industry), Microcassettes (developed by Olympus for the dictation market). For the first time the equipment was manufactured in Japan by JVC, but designed and developed by Dictaphone. The size of the cassette was important, as it enabled the manufacturer to reduce the size of portable recorders, which were growing in popularity. Dictaphone later developed the Pico cassette with JVC, released in 1985. This was smaller, but still had good recording time and quality.
Dictaphone had also developed the "endless loop" recording using magnetic tape. This was introduced in the mid-seventies as the "Thought Tank." A number of editions were launched, and this became a popular choice, particularly within the health care profession, as the recording medium did not move from where the dictation took place, making it perfect for environments which could lead to contamination or infection. The system could be used within typing pools, and one variation calculated the turn around time for each typist and allocated the next piece of dictation to the typist with the fastest time.
Dictaphone was prominent in multi-channel recorders. These are extensively used in the emergency services to record emergency telephone calls (911, 999, 112) and the subsequent radio conversations. As financial markets were liberated in the early 1980s, these recorders were used in the financial industry to record conversations in dealing rooms. The recordings were made on reel-to-reel tape, and could be located and replayed by date and time. In the late 1980s digital recording was offered as an alternative to the reel-to-reel tape, and soon became the medium of choice.
In 1979, Dictaphone was purchased by Pitney Bowes, but was kept as a wholly owned but autonomous subsidiary. During this period the Dual Display Word Processor company was purchased, a competitor to Wang Laboratories, the industry leader. The advent of the personal computer, MS-DOS, and general purpose word processing software saw the demise of the dedicated word processor, and the division was closed.
In 1995, Pitney Bowes sold Dictaphone to the investment group Stonington Partners of Connecticut for a reported $462 million.
In 2000, Dictaphone was acquired by the then-leading Belgian voice recognition and translation company Lernout & Hauspie for nearly $1 billion. Lernout & Hauspie provided the voice recognition technology for Dictaphone's voice recognition enhanced transcription system.
Soon after the purchase, the SEC raised questions about Lernout & Hauspie’s finances, focusing on reported income from its East Asian endeavors, which seemed to skyrocket during these times. Subsequently, the company and all its subsidiaries were forced into bankruptcy protection for U.S. assets such as Dictaphone.
In early 2002, Dictaphone emerged from bankruptcy as a privately held organization, with Rob Schwager as its Chairman and CEO, while the remaining assets were broken up and sold individually, with ScanSoft, now known as Nuance Communications, Inc., acquiring core businesses such as Dragon Systems and voice recognition research personnel in the U.S.
In 2004, Dictaphone was split into three divisions:
- IHS — Healthcare division which focuses on dictation for the medical industry
- IVS — dictation for law offices and police stations
- CRS — Communications Recording Solutions. Focuses on recording phones and radios in public safety organizations and quality monitoring solutions for call centers.
In June 2005, Dictaphone sold its Communications Recording Solutions to NICE Systems for $38.5 million, which was considered a great bargain in the industry. This comes after NICE was ordered to pay Dictaphone $10 million in settlements related to a patent infringement suit in late 2003. Dictaphone has since focused its goals in speech recognition for the healthcare industry with only limited success, mainly building on its well established brand name.
In September 2005, Dictaphone sold the IVS Business outside the United States to a private Swiss group, who formed Dictaphone IVS AG, later called Calison AG, in Urdorf, Switzerland. This group developed the first hardware-independent dictation management software solution ("FRISBEE") with integrated speech recognition and workflow management. In 2008 iSpeech AG took over the activities and products of the former Calison AG.
In February and March 2006, the remainder of Dictaphone was sold for $357 million to Nuance Communications, formerly known as ScanSoft, ending its short tenure as an independent company it started in early 2002, and effectively closing a circle of events which began in early 2000 by being sold to Lernout & Hauspie (assets of which were sold to ScanSoft/Nuance in the events of early 2002).
In March 2007, Nuance acquired Focus Infomatics and linked it with the Dictaphone Division to further expand in the health-care transcription business with some initial success.
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