How Handwriting Recognition Could Work on the iPad

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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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