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Handwriting Recognition

Jeff Atwood went on about Speech Recognition and how, despite what Star Trek says, it's not likely to become a major mode of computer interface. Not that I've done much with speech recognition, but it sounds about right to me. Honestly, when I want to tell the computer something, I want to poke it with my mouse or trackball or type at it with a keyboard. (When I want it to tell me something, I am not against having it talk to me. I have written a script that makes a time string that's much more friendly to Festival. ("Eleven 55 A M")

Toward the end, Jeff goes on about handwriting recognition, starting with the Apple Newton.
I learned Palm's Graffiti handwriting recognition language and got fairly proficient with it. More than ten years later, you'd expect to see massively improved handwriting recognition of some sort in today's iPads and iPhones and iOthers, right? Well, maybe, if by "massively improved" you mean "nonexistent".
There is a point I think he fails to consider. Apple Newton's handwriting recognition was trying to recognize your handwriting. Graffiti was more about you learning to write the variant of the letter set that Graffiti could understand.

You could take notes on a Palm, if your concept of "taking notes" is "Get eggs on way home". But, if your idea of taking notes was "I'm taking a Senior-level networking course with Comer and don't want to use a paper notebook", you could not really do that on a Palm. The key is that it's faster and easier to type, especially if you can use a dictionary and do lookahead guessing of what you're trying to type. (Although my wife has problems with her Blackberry understanding what she means.) Typing won out in the marketplace of portable items because it's easier to do at speed than handwriting recognition.

But, considering the lineage of the iPhone, it makes me wonder. "Handwriting recognition. Is there an app for that?"


  1. I suppose it depends on the context:

    When I had a HP200LX I used to type but found that it was tiring unless the text was short. I found I used it for around half an hour a day and mostly for keeping my schedule.

    After I tried the Newton (MP2100), I found I was using it for nearly 5 hours a day. Its somehow more culturally acceptable to write in a business meeting. Tapping away on a keyboard seems to distract and disrupt the discussion. People suspect you're playing and not listening. So there is a place for HWR.

    Granted its not so quick as typing but typing works best in a certain context too. When you're on the move, you're restricted to thumbing. For me, that works only for short texts. When it's a lengthy document then I need all 9-fingers (yes, I only learnt to use nine) so the keyboard or laptop needs to be on a flat surface.

    OTOH with a Newton I can write anywhere while waiting at an airport, leaning back on couch or sitting in the car while picking up the children from sport.

    HWR systems such as that used on Win7 have caught up to the Newton in accuracy rates and gestures for editing but usability still falls behind because the HWR isn't offered so that apps can write anywhere on the screen and expect it to be recognized and inserted wherever the cursor might be. Instead there's an input box. The Newton led the way in modeless computing and showed how HWR can be a seamless experience.

    In summary, HWR isn't just about recognizing text but also how it's integrated to create a user experience through its system of gestures for editing and corrections, as well as its relationship with the OS and apps.

  2. Thanks for the response.

    Nine sounds about right, as you're only supposed to use the right thumb for the space bar. I've been known to switch up, but most of the time, it's the right thumb, just nine.

    I use a Samsung Instinct, which has a HWR mode I've never really sussed out. The onscreen keyboard mode is OK for short notes, but so slow and clumsy, I'd hate to have to use it for anything with size or urgency.

    And if you have the decoder ring saying what's acceptable for business meetings, I'd like to see.

    I think the small form factor is far far far more for receiving data than sending it. Cameraphones to the contrary.