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Could Handwriting Recognition Be Andoid’s Secret Weapon?

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android-keyboardThe Android Developers Blog offers a highly detailed overview of soft keyboard input methods today. It’s mainly geared towards software developers, of course, but end users get a nice understanding of the various IME or Input Method Editors in the Android (s GOOG) mobile OS. Although the focus of the article is on different keyboard designs and the impact of using them, I thought this was very interesting:

“The Android IMF is designed to support a variety of IMEs, including soft keyboard, hand-writing recognizers, and hard keyboard translators. Our focus, however, will be on soft keyboards, since this is the kind of input method that is currently part of the platform.”

Handwriting recognizers, eh? Now that’s traditionally been the realm of resistive touchscreen devices, not capacitive ones like the current Android devices have. Capacitive really shines with precise touch input, but hasn’t gained momentum with handwriting recognition. That method is preferred in Asia and other markets where a keyboard is simply too limiting. In fact, the lack of handwritten character input is partly why Apple’s iPhone isn’t selling well in those markets. There are other valid reasons as well, but Nokia (s NOK) has run into the same problem and essentially pulled out of the Japanese market.

While the current public Android focus is on the new software keyboard update, I have to wonder how a native handwriting feature would affect Android sales. It’s something that the rising two players, Apple (s AAPL) and Research in Motion (s RIMM), simply don’t offer and it just might be a big enough differentiator to gain Google more worldwide momentum with Android sales. Of course, capacitive screens don’t work with a stylus geared for pressure-sensitive screens, so something like the Pogo Stylus would be required: It can be used on capacitive screens to simulate the touch of a finger.

14 Responses to “Could Handwriting Recognition Be Andoid’s Secret Weapon?”

  1. Mario Redondo

    Well… I just found this thread while researching the “handwriting recognition” subject.
    HR is the main reason I haven’t changed platform in the last five/six years. I’ve gone from a SonyEricsson P900 to P990i to P1i to G700.
    God knows I’d love to have an iPhone, or other state-of-the-art phone, but the truth is that HR has changed my life (yes, it’s that big!) and now I’m afraid of even changing HR METHODS, let alone abandoning it altogether…
    I agree with spinedoc: HR is faster, more natural and more accurate than any other input method, even on a tiny screen. I write long texts on the small screen of my G700, really quick.
    HR is what made it possible for me to have my whole Calendar on my phone, complete with multiple appointments full of notes.
    I think it’s a shame that it’s being disregarded by the industry, and I which manufacturers would continue to have at least one product line devoted to well rounded business phones capable of accurate and crisp HR.
    There… I took it off my chest!

    • Spot on Mario, HR is that big. My personal productivity greatly increased years ago from palm V and Tungsten T3 adoption. At the heart of which is HR. I just don’t understand why this isn’t being demanded as much as copy and paste was. However, Mobile Write does look promising in tandem with a capacitive touch screen stylus. PS I’m holding out for the Windows mobile 6.5 based HTC HD2. With HR and a stylus it would be a formidable business device.

      • kristyn

        Wow I just stumbled on your blog and I am so glad I did. I thought I was CRAZY searching out the phone that allowed HR. The kids at the sprint store think I have lost my mind. I can text so fast and accurate using Scribble back from the days on Palm 1 on an LCD screen. Windows mobile OS continues to keep that input method. I would love to have access to some of the great apps for the android, but I do not think I am willing to give up the HR. Thank you for making my day and letting me know I have not gone off the deep end!

  2. I think you’re all forgetting that Android isn’t JUST for phones. It could be used on larger devices, such as a more traditional tablet pc. In that case, handwriting might make more sense than trying to scribble on a little phone screen. I don’t think writing on a phone screen would be very comfortable or productive.

  3. spinedoc

    I’ve been saying this for years. Handwriting recognition is much faster and more accurate than keypadding, and that’s on a hardware keyboard. Take a pitiful software keyboard like the iphone’s and there is no contest.

    The one thing that will be a sticking point is the stylus. I’ve played around with the iphone program that lets you input handwriting, but without a stylus it’s a bit bulky and inaccurate to use.

    I can still remember the good old days when I used to write daily notes and multi page reports all using handwriting recognition on a pocket pc. That’s one of the few things I sorely miss on my iphone.

  4. Robert Kawaratani


    1. Hardly anybody uses handwritten character recognition in Japan. Sony and others had PDAs, etc. that could do Chinese character recognition about 15 years ago.
    2. Although there are those who tell me that they like inputting Japanese on a iPhone, it’s no match for using the keypad on a Japanese phone for me. However, this is a YMMV issue.


  5. Just to say ‘Thanks’ for the Pogo Stylus link. I didn’t know about them and just this very day my wife was talking about looking for a stylus for the iPhone. Talk about timely :-)

  6. Kevin

    Excuse the phrasing but what are you smoking? iPhone does handwriting recognition of
    Chinese characters just fine. It’s been supported as an input method along with several
    “key-based” methods since 2.0 of the software.

    Secondly, iPhone does Japanese (and Korean) input just fine. Maybe you should
    check it out first because the article makes it seem like you don’t know the iPhones keyboard can morph into more than two dozen different kinds.

    In fact, if anything this is proof Apple made the right decision by going with a soft keyboard. Hard for physicals buttons to morph into the cool hana-input style that’s offered as one input methods for Japanese.

    And aside from the Storm, I don’t see Blackberry or hard keyboard based devices being able to compete with the totally intuitive handwriting input for Chinese on iPhone.. Advantage iPhone (whenever it gets sold officially over there, who knows when that’ll happen)

  7. I’m not sure why you keep saying that capacitive touchscreens are more precise Kevin because they’re not. A stylus on a resistive touchscreen is more precise than a finger on a capacitive touchscreen. Instead, the latter excels at light-touch input.

    • I suppose that depends on what you’re using the device for. I can use the capacitive touch when browsing the web on my iPhone and hit what I think is the tiniest visible link: sure enough, the screen interprets the touch perfectly darn near every time.

    • Sorry, I used triangle brackets and that must have broken my example.

      I meant to say “Previous, 1, 2, 3, 4, Next”.

      You could hit 3 with a stylus first time without zooming but your finger wouldn’t be so successful on a capacitive screen.

      I’m not having a go at you, I’m just trying to understand what you mean because you keep saying that capacitive is more precise when that’s not necessarily the case.

    • Jake, I appreciate your opposite opinion; I’m not taking it as if you were having a go at me. Let me see if I can explain why I find the capacitive display on my iPhone so precise.

      I navigated to our site here on my iPhone, not the mobile version, but the desktop version. I zoomed in to the lowest possible level that made our category links readable. And I mean *barely* readable. I can correctly pick any single one of them using my finger on this screen, practically 100% of the time. And they are VERY tiny at this level. I see no less precision than if I was using a stylus and a passive touch screen. Seriously. Maybe it’s just me and my small fingers, but it works exteremely precise for me. I’d love to hear from other iPhone or G1 owners on this topic…

  8. animatio

    well the problem with pogos and “inking by fingertip” is – and that’s the general caveat of this type of touch screens – that is lacks pixel precision. inking input is not only about handwriting per se, it is also about drawing with different force and line characteristics. features well known from graphic tablets.