Apple’s iPad won’t support native handwriting recognition, which has disappointed many potential purchasers. This could be due to the lighter OS or CPU, but there are some potential solutions to get around this. Maybe the client-server model will be reborn for handwriting on the iPad.


Apple today announced pre-order information and availability for the iPad, so of course, we’re wondering which of you will be buying. As of this moment, the poll results show two buyers for every one pollster passing by the iPad. Based on my reading of various commentary these past few weeks, it seems like Apple’s newest device didn’t meet expectations for some. I’m more inclined to see what the iPad can do and not what it can’t do or what it doesn’t have. I still believe that the form factor is a feature in and of itself — this factor reminds of the early netbook market. At first, people scoffed at the little laptops, but once held, carried and used, the small form factor shined a light on the potential of netbooks. And the tens of millions of netbook sales now show the result of that potential.

For many, one of the biggest disappointments in the iPad is the lack of native handwriting recognition. When most of us think “slate tablet” our minds immediately wander to Microsoft Windows Tablet PCs from the last five years or so. One of the big draws in these systems is the inking capability and the stellar handwriting recognition that converts the written word to searchable text in the background. But there’s no such feature available natively for the iPad, which runs on the iPhone OS. In a GigaOm Pro article (subscription required) James thinks that inking might be the “killer app” for the iPad because of the functionality it offers and how well it fits in with the slate form factor.  The capacitive display could work for inking with the appropriate stylus, so it’s not out of the question. Even if Apple’s iPhone OS or the custom A4 ARM chip can’t handle this feature natively, would-be inkers could be satisfied by having the hardware recognition happen on Apple servers, just like the approach offered today by Evernote.

The client-server model in this case is no different than the one used by Google’s Search by speech function on Android handsets. I use this functionality several times a day, and while it looks like the magic happens on the phone, it’s actually happening on Google’s servers. I speak into my phone, the audio is sent to Google where it’s processed and the textual result is sent back to my phone. We saw potential for a similar approach with Microsoft’s Translating Telephone — again, the heavy lifting of language translation is done on a server, while the mobile device is simply a client. With the right solution, Apple could provide the servers and processing power to translate handwritten notes on the iPad. The writing’s on the wall — if Apple doesn’t offer it, a company like Evernote might.

Is the lack of native handwriting recognition holding you back from an iPad purchase?

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  1. I certainly don’t want a tablet without handwriting support, although, I think the Microsoft Courier looks a lot more intriguing than the iPad as it looks like it will have an active digitizer.

    I love my Fujitsu Tablet and wouldn’t want to be without an active digitizer or some impressive palm rejection.

  2. I agree totally with you that the iPad will be BIG.

    The perfect coffee table accessory. Twenty years ago we’d have paid $500 for an electronic TV Guide that came with a lifetime subscription. The spouse who hates electronics in the living room will make an exception.

    And I’m guessing this will go big into businesses. Embraced by the doctor/dentist/store owner/… who is generally a technophobe. Wow, with handwriting recognition, they’ll be amazed.

    And the monthly 3G plan is a terrific idea. Take it with you on vacation.

    P.S. Am def. not an Apple fanboy. Haven’t owned anything Apple since the Macintosh II.

  3. I do wish the Ipad had handwriting recogntion, but the lack of it is far from a deal breaker for me. If hwr can only happen on a remote server, I definatly don’t want it. I just don’t want to be dependant on connectivity in order for a core function to work.

  4. HW recognition would definitely be a big feature for the iPad, or any device that can be held and used like a clipboard. However, the iPad is geared squarely toward content consumption, whereas handwriting has been needed mostly for content creation – one other reason why folks may not be drawn to the device.

    How that works out with apps, and if it requires any “tweaks” I don’t know. But I’m sure we won’t need to wait too long to see HW support arrive in some form.

  5. I am the proud owner of a 2730p. It is great to take notes wherever I go. I wouldn´t have even considered it if it hadn´t handwrting recognition and its other inking-related capabilities. When I am explaining something in a meeting i just have to draw it fast and use the VGA port with a projector. Personally, for me is like having a sheet of paper wherever I am, but with the possibility of backup, handwriting recognition, sending my notes and all the other advantages of a computer. Before seeing the final version of the iPad I think that it would be a great touch experience, but not just what any businessman would like to have in his bag. Funny and enjoyable, but not really practical.

  6. Most definitely. Note-taking would be my primary use for this device, which I especially like because of the long battery life.
    That said, writing with some sort of flat-circle pen tip is unacceptable.

  7. Show of hands… How many people can actually use HWR on any device? I mean full screen, not a little text entry box, that actually works well enough you don’t have to keep going back and correcting all of the time. There are those with the perfect touch that make it look flawless and there is the other 90+% of the population that gets frustrated. I can see Apple letting someone else own the HWR on the iPad so everyone doesn’t spend all of their time writing about that not working rather than the full product feature set. Most likely Apple will keep with the keyboard and digital ink to give the experience between computer and pen/paper. Yes, I’m a Apple fan, but that means I hold them to a higher standard and have no issue with pointing out the good and the bad.

  8. Handwriting recognition and associated technologies will probably be a little less comfortable for the consumer, if they’re using a wifi only device.

    I agree with the other sentiment that for this particular usage, the Microsoft Courier (if it works as demoed – which is a big if), should be pretty amazing for this. Plus I still think Onenote does a better job of handwriting recognition than does web based applications which offer it (say, Evernote).

  9. I have a strong suspicion Evernote may be the first entry to do just what the article proposes.


  10. I was hoping that along with Apple’s deal with publishers HWR would make this the ideal study device. No HWR and a delay on the launch of the book app in international markets makes it hard to justify the purchase of an iPad.

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