How Handwriting Recognition Could Work on the iPad


Apple (s aapl) 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 (s msft) 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?


Ante Neo

Apple, please give us a handwriting app or support a competition or whatever there is to make app companies make the best hand writing app possible. I’m an old Palm Pilot Grafitti user and still use it on my winmobile with app block recoqnizer. I have a Iphone that I do not use even if it’s the best, I have an iPad that I use every day mostly from my couch but also when I leave office. It would be great if I could make notes with a stylus usibg Grafitti or similar hand writing!!


I love the geeky games and toys the iPad offers – but I just can’t justify the cost without having the illusion that I’ll actually do work on it.

If I can take notes and replace my everyday notebook at work then I will definitely buy one. Apple, are you listening???


The first thing that I thought of when considering buying an iPad was writing on it. I’m a high tech kind of guy and I work on the Internet. But I still carry a pad of paper to every meeting in 2010. That’s nuts!

I’m positive that this will be one of the first killer apps for the iPad and that it will be an area of constant innovation and development.

palla ramarao

I was really looking for the handwriting feature. I was thinking of using iPad as a slate to write notes in office meetings etc. But after reading your article,it makes me sorrow. Actually is there any device where you can use the tablet like a slate and write notes, diagrams, etc with ease and without complaints. There are other more technology flaws in iPad. Visit the Apple iPad here.


Yes, the missing native handwriting recognition is definately the swing vote. I am infinately faster writing down my appointments into my Outlook calendar while on the run, scheduling 20-30 appointments a day – usually not when I’m at my desk. If I have to mess with scrolling, buttons, and the keyboard, I’ll get impatient and just write it on a napkin which is about as useful as a paper calendar nowadays. Furter, it would be sheer perfection if I could jot meeting notes right into it, too. I’m thinking about looking into the Fujitsu Tablet costs. I really hope someone comes up with a handwriting app. That would be incredible! I’m so excited about the battery life as well!


I am heartbroken that the iPad will not have handwriting recognition. I am a songwriter and scriptwriter – the very demographic iPad will appeal to. Unlike normal folks who sit down and work, writers have bits of ideas 24/7/365. Even though I keep the MBP running, it’s not the same. Using the computer automatically puts my left brain in charge. I have an iMac27 for recording audio and video, a MacMini for streaming video to my 3 AppleTvs, a MBP that I carry from room to room and of course, my iPhone but I’m still always scribbling ideas on random bits of paper. I have been a die-hard Mac supporter long before iPod and iTunes changed everybody else’s world. I buy every new Apple gadget as soon as it’s out and have been WAITING for a tablet for literally years. I got so desperate I even bought a tabletPC but it was an expensive pain. I’m heartbroken to find out iPad has no HWR. Looks like the only option is the expensive ModBook. So disappointed. We don’t need laptop power, we’ve got laptops. We don’t need camera, iPhone has that. We can even surf the web with game systems or a hacked AppleTV. What we need is Handwriting Recognition for quick ideas, to add notes to recipes or other ebooks, calendars – the list goes on. We will be using iPad on the go, not sitting down at a desk most of the time. Who will use a dock (or even two hands) to jott a quick note? Oh brother.

S Landier

Apple’s own handwriting recognition (Inkwell) has a poor track-record (read : unusable) and supports very few languages.
I reckon that Apple should have a look at VisionObjects’ technology, which has already been adopted by the guys who transform MacBooks into MacTablets (can’t remember the name, sorry).


I’m still a grafiti/block recognition maven that has always been stylus centric. I loathe Apple’s soft kb because so much time is wasted tapping extra buttons and switching screens just to add even a period to text. It’s faster and less frusting to carry a pen and some folded paper in my pocket at all times.

Even if the Ipad had great hwr, it would still be too big and too pim deficient for me.

I’ll plod on with netbooks and pen and paper until I’m holding my own Dell Mini 5 or Courier in my hands. Although I’m happy with the the wireless experience on my Touch, it’s pretty much just a media player and I’ll gladly replace it with a smaller nano if a 32gb version is ever released.


I work in health care, and I want a good tablet for note taking! So, I will not buy a tablet that does not support handwriting (or sketching for that matter). I’m also going to need one a little bit bigger than the iPad. You know, like the size of a piece of paper, please. So, I probably won’t be getting an iPad after all. I’ll probably end up w/ a Vega or some other Android tablet (doubt I’ll go w/ windoze as I like the idea of app-stores). After work, I’d love to sit down and watch some hulu on a decent sized screen. PLZKTHX!


I use onenote and my Lenovo tablet and to be honest, I could care less if it interprets my handwriting. As long as I can add a paragraph of what is in the notes in regular text and there’s some kind of palm rejection, that’s all I care about.

Kathryn Bigelow

Typing is much faster than Handwriting !

Get with the program you backward WinMo Stylus junkies set in your reality distortion field view of the world. SNAP OUT OF IT ALREADY.

The iPad will be BIG. How big you ask ?



No Wacom pen, no sale.

Before there can be handwriting recognition, there must be good pen interface hardware to begin with. The iPad lacks that-a capacitive stylus just isn’t the same.

Also, handwriting recognition as most people think of it-immediately converted into plain text-is doing it wrong in my eyes. How it should work is like OneNote: you handwrite it, and it still looks visually handwritten, but is recognized in the background for searching purposes. Current handwriting recognition technology may not be good enough to be a reliable plain text input method, but it’s certainly good enough to build an index. Besides, if you’re using handwriting to begin with, I would at least assume that your handwriting is legible to your own eyes anyway, thereby eliminating the need for conversion to plain text.


I agree that handwriting recognition would be killer but I suspend judgement until I play with the keyboard.

I use Phatnotes for iPhone and the handwriting recognition is quite good:

I also use ShapeWriter Pro for long texts but numbers and symbols are a pain when in writing flow:

The exception is integration with freehand drawings and for that I use digital ink: Tanzaku Pad

I would suspect both would work with the iPad given the original debut.

Despite the rags against MS Tablets, the handwriting is a plus that they got right.

If execution on Courier is good, portability and mindshare will go there and my future iPad will be relegated to a coffee table/kitchen home browser for the family.



Yes I will be waiting for this

Want it native to avoid need to access server

Also doesn’t one of the ereaders allow u to annotate text in a book margin. This is a very nice feature for students in addition to being able to highlight text

Marco Mailand

Apple has shown back in 1996 that it is able to do HWR with a much weaker processor with its late Newton Message Pad 2100. The iPad
however is produced from another Apple, this time its Job’s Apple and I fear that he may prevent HWR coming back to the iPad and thus to the iPhone and iPod Touch too. However, I’ll give the iPad a try because my Newton is now a little bit old and rusty and internet connectivity is more and more an important feature what the Newton could handle only in 16 shades of grey and w/o frames and other limitations. Emailing with handwriting was nice but I can do with kbd too. Drawings on the Newton I’ve used a lot too and I think there will be a paint-like app for the iPad.


For me, no inking means this device won’t work for me in enough of a meaningful way to purchase it. I spend quite a bit of my time writing notes (for class) and marking up pdf and office documents. I don’t need HWR per se, but definitely need inking. An oversized iPod doesn’t do it for me.

I like the concept of the device otherwise (having used slates since the TC1100 years back).

Jethro Bodine

Naw i not need any Stylus because i no have WinMo mind melt. I more progressive than windows. I vision Apple thought co-processor can have electromagnetic interface to human brain command sector via new Apple brain impulse algorithm implementation via hw programmed logic array with built-in parallel process low voltage engine. End result: No Stylus + No Windows + No Handwriting nonsense !

Mind control processors are already in use on several black op military applications and they have be proven very effective. Apple can move this technology to iPad with excellent results already being shown in Apple Labs. No Stylus needed really.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Joe T.

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.


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.

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