Handwriting recognition technology for mobile devices has been around for decades, despite its relatively low profile. Ever heard of the PalmPilot or the Newton MessagePad? Both portable '90s PDAs recognized character input with a stylus — and a little hoop jumping. You had to write legibly for the Newton to recognize lettering, and you had to learn the Graffiti language for the Palm to do the same.
While many mobile apps allow you to handwrite letters and draw strokes and shapes onscreen with iOS and Android devices – and some even make such notations searchable – only a few recognize, translate or digitize that input. The following apps can automatically recognize and digitize your handwritten scrawl. Some of the simple apps are free, some operate with integrated keyboards, while others carry in-app purchases or fees, or owe their talents to the MyScript AI handwriting recognition and digital ink management engine.
MyScript Stylus (free)Credit: MyScript Stylus
A free app for iOS and Android, MyScript Stylus is a handwriting keyboard that replaces onscreen and physical keyboards with a finger-friendly scrolling input panel. After installation, the panel interface lets you use a finger or stylus to input letters and punctuation. You can use intuitive onscreen gestures or general controls to create, edit, delete, overwrite, join words and remove spaces from handwritten input. The app also lets you insert line breaks and erase characters, words or sentences.
As you write, the app immediately translates your print or cursive into digital text in apps that allow typed input, including Notes, email, documents, calendar, browser, SMS, MMS and Facebook. Just use the globe button on your keyboard to rotate between the MyScript input panel and the device's native typing and emoji keyboards. An info button walks you through all the recognized gestures. Even the sloppiest handwriting and script translates surprisingly well. MyScript Stylus has 14 built-in languages and recognizes more than 60.
Notes Plus ($9.99)Credit: Notes Plus
If your goal is to go completely paperless, Notes Plus is an elegant place to start. This gesture-based onscreen writing app for iPhone and iPad supports more than 50 languages and delivers fluid handwriting capabilities, complete with ink effects, palm rejection, shape recognition and a close-up writing mode.
Using the MyScript engine, the app can translate your scribble into text, as well as accept text input and export notes as PDF or images to email, Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote. You can import PDF and Word documents and insert images from the photos or camera app. Audio input lets you record notes if you're not writing fast enough. The app is compatible with styluses from Wacom, Adonit and Apple Pencil. The interface is stylish, fun and responsive, with plenty of options to scale or move elements around the page – and it offers variable ink styles, colors, thicknesses and writing implements.
Google Handwriting Input (free)Credit: Google
Google Handwriting Input, an Android-only app, translates your scribbles immediately and directly onscreen as you write. Upon installing the app, you get a few setup panes where you can choose your language and an optional keyboard, which lets you use the utility with other text input apps. In addition to supporting 97 languages, it allows easy input of ideographic lettering and voice, and recognizes emoji-style drawings.
This app understands the sloppiest scrawl quite well and offers predictive text at the top of the window to let you tweak its interpretation – or you can correct spelling directly on the text output. An online feature sends information to Google to decipher your handwriting to improve the recognition engine, but you can opt out of this in favor of more private local device translation. While there is no specific iOS version, you can enable Google Handwrite in mobile Safari or Chrome to search with finger or stylus.
MyScript Nebo ($2.99)Credit: MyScript
This app is specifically designed for use with the Apple iPad Pro and Pencil or the latest versions of Android with an active stylus, like S Pen or a Wacom pen. Nebo uses its interactive Ink tech to facilitate writing, drawing and formatting notes, and converting text into shareable documents. Aside from editing and formatting, the app lets you sketch; annotate images; create editable equations; adjust type size and device orientation; organize notes in pages, notebooks, and folders; and search, store or sync with Dropbox. You can export your document as text, Word, PDF or HTML. A diagram feature lets you draw shapes and create handwritten labels. With a double tap, your diagram transforms into classic shapes, straight lines and text.
MyScript Memo (free)Credit: MyScript
A universal iOS app, MyScript Memo lets you write, draw, create lists and memos, and convert your handwriting to text via online translation with MyScript web services. Memo is a simple app, but it has some nice touches, like a choice of backgrounds, customizable default line width and color, a personal dictionary, and an adjustable writing guard. The app supports text line breaks as well as scalable drawings, diagrams and pictures.
If you use the writing guard to park your palm on the screen while taking notes, it lets you exclude that area to avoid unwanted palm artifacts. You can copy and paste the app's converted digital text into other documents, or export to various social media, Evernote or Gmail. You can also export written material as an image or native MyScript file. The app supports more than 60 languages altogether.
WritePad ($4.99)Credit: WritePad
WritePad is ideal for those who prefer to write longhand but need to see their text in digital format. After installation, you can configure a host of options to recognize input forms and predefined commands, or you can input lettering with your finger or a stylus. As soon as you're done with a word, it automatically converts to text. Gesture-based controls let you select, cut, copy, paste and insert special characters. The app learns your writing style to cut down on mistakes. Four recognition modes let you enter cursive, print, numeric text for phone numbers, and internet language for email addresses and URLs.
The Android or iOS app supports a dozen languages and can translate back and forth between them. It also has a spell checker with a custom dictionary, a context analyzer, auto-corrector, and a Shorthand Editor that accepts frequently used words and phrases. It syncs with Evernote, Box, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and iTunes. You can even tweet or post Facebook updates directly from the app.'
Mazec ($9.99)Credit: Mazec
Mazec is a keyboard app that provides handwriting conversion to text in a variety of apps like email, notes and social posts. With tech derived from semantic databases in conjunction with the MyScript engine, you can search, browse the web and complete online forms. Settings let you choose font size, auto-scroll area width, word spacing and more.
As you begin writing words, Mazec displays an abundance of suggestions and phrases to choose from within the interface, so you usually don't have to write out an entire word before the app nails it. Mazec intelligently understands your choices, learns specific phrases and even offers emoji options – if you write "emoji" or a recognized emoji category name. Mazec supports 12 languages, but you must buy a language pack if you want to use any other but the one you signed in with. It works on Android or iOS.
GoodNotes ($7.99)Credit: GoodNotes
Anyone seeking a high-powered notetaking and PDF annotation app with some handwriting recognition skills thrown in can rely on GoodNotes for skilled, searchable, and versatile notebook and document creation. The app's pen tool offers a choice of letter colors and thicknesses. Shape recognition mode creates proper shapes from crudely drawn freehand. The app lets you work with text boxes and images so that you can move items around as well as zoom, scroll and turn pages. A palm rest, coupled with an intelligent palm rejection algorithm, avoids bothersome artifacts.
You can use the lasso tool to select handwritten notes and, with the search function, convert your lettering to text. While you can search handwritten notes, text boxes and text, the app only converts handwriting to text (in 12 languages) for export via the clipboard to a host of other apps and social media, as opposed to letting you view translated text directly on a page within the app. Thanks to iCloud, you can keep all your notes in sync between your iPhone and iPad.