For ages, human beings have been using their hands to write - whether on stone tablets, papyrus, parchment or paper. With the invention of computers, writing shifted to electronic screens, whether people use a keyboard to type or an electronic pen to capture thoughts on a modern tablet.
But for many, the process of writing on a computer tablet has stalled - sure, digital pens and ink technologies can capture a person’s hand strokes, but those notes, diagrams or other drawings stay locked into whatever software (OneNote, Evernote) is being used. With pen and paper (and word processing applications), things can be edited, searched, stored and shared with others.
This week's release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update puts a strong emphasis on digital ink, with new applications aimed at users picking up the pen on their tablet or 2-in-1 and using it for note-taking, sketching or diagram creation.
But the next step in the evolution of this technology needs to be applications that do more than just capture the strokes of the digital pen. The software needs to take the handwriting, recognize it in real-time (whether someone is writing a sentence, drawing a diagram or writing a math equation) and then convert that to a digital format. Once digitized, a human being can edit their thoughts, make changes on the fly and convert it into something that can be imported into other applications, or shared with colleagues in the preferred digital format.
One company has such plans - MyScript. The company recently launched its Interactive Ink technology, which allows for “ink editing via simple gestures” so applications can quickly reflow edits to digital handwriting. The technology uses predictive handwriting recognition, artificial intelligence and a neural network architecture to achieve this real-time flexibility, the company says. MyScript released an application developer tool kit that will let third-party software developers and OEMs to integrate this into future applications.
I saw a demo of the new technology (in a soon-to-be released app from MyScript) and was very impressed. Using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet and an iPad Pro (with the Apple Pencil), we were able to handwrite a sentence on the paper and make some quick edits to the sentence when thoughts needed to change or if we wanted to bold certain words or draw a flow chart.
This even works well with people who think they have awful handwriting. My current handwriting style is a mixture of block printing and cursive, and the system was able to tell the difference. Equally impressive is how quickly the system can not only interpret the handwriting or drawing, but then change from the handwritten ink to the digital text format, as well as simple ways to edit, change text, re-flow and add bold to text.
Whether these technology improvements will get more people to adopt digital handwriting as a form of input in their day-to-day life remains to be seen. Improvements in pens continue to be made, and the preferred physical form for notebooks/tablets seems to be the 2-in-1 (or, in the case of Apple, the iPad Pro), where a digital pen is just another option for input, which includes typing and finger/touchscreen controls. But at least one of the barriers of this technology - being able to quickly edit and then share those digital documents with others - appears to be going away.
I'll cover this more when MyScript's new app, as well as third-party apps, start to appear for Windows 10 and iPad Pro users. Stay tuned!