- Notetaking can lead to better information retention and more creative thought processes.
- Computers and mobile devices can take the place of traditional notepads thanks to handwriting recognition software.
- The best pieces of handwriting recognition software can instantly upload your notes to the cloud.
- This article is for small business owners who are considering implementing handwriting recognition software in their company's daily operation.
If you take notes by hand on your mobile device – either with your finger or a stylus – you know there's no substitute for a solid handwriting recognition app to make all your scribbles legible.
Handwriting recognition has been around for decades, starting with the PalmPilot and the Newton MessagePad from the 1990s. These popular PDAs recognized character input with a stylus. 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.
Many mobile apps let you draw letters, strokes and shapes onscreen with iOS and Android devices, but only a few recognize, translate or digitize that input.
The following apps can automatically recognize and digitize your handwriting. Some of the apps are free, some operate with integrated keyboards, while others have in-app purchases or fees, or rely on the MyScript AI handwriting recognition and digital ink management engine.
How do handwriting recognition apps work?
Thanks to the high-power computational power that today's mobile devices and desktop computers harness, handwriting recognition technology can help digitize a person's unique handwriting style. Born from an older type of technology known as optical character recognition, handwriting recognition tech converts the written word into digital approximations.
After scanning a document, or once someone writes a note on a touchscreen, the device in question attempts to separate each letter to compare them to a database of letters that the handwriting may likely be. Some of the more advanced handwriting recognition software utilizes complex algorithms and compares written letters to an extensive database to identify characters before churning out a digital approximation. Over time, some handwriting recognition tech will also get better at deciphering even some of the hardest to read chicken scratch.
Key takeaway: Handwriting recognition apps are able to scan and digitize your handwritten notes.
MetaMoJi Note ($7.99)
This colorful notebook, sketchbook and scrapbook app supports voice input, PDF annotation and handwriting-to-text conversion with the Mazec helper app.
The app offers a large assortment of pens, calligraphy pens and inks, graphics, and layouts for writing and sketching. You can edit and tag voice memos to visuals or documents – or import a PDF file, mark it up and save it back out as a PDF. You can share notes via email, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr, or store and share files with Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox. You can sync all folders to the MetaMoJi Cloud, which saves and manages up to 2GB of documents for free and password protect your notes.
A Gold Service for $29.99 per year, or $4.99 per month, gives you additional flexible features, including a shared drive for coediting documents, interval-based auto sync for backing up notes, more cloud storage, access to additional inks and papers, and the ability to customize the navigation bar.
Notes Plus ($9.99)
Credit: Notes Plus
Notes Plus is a gesture-based writing app for iPhone and iPad that supports more than 50 languages and delivers fluid handwriting capabilities, complete with ink effects, palm rejection, shape recognition and a close-up writing mode. 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.
Thomas Fultz, founder of Coffeeble.com said he likes Notes Plus because he is more comfortable writing out his notes.
" I get to handwrite my notes, but I automatically have them stored digitally," Fultz said. "It's also easier to find older notes if I need to reference them again compared to an actual physical notepad, so if I ever have an idea for content for my site or simply want to note something down, I'll use Notes Plus to quickly write it down and then it's easy for me to access later."
Combined with the MyScript engine, Notes Plus translates your scribble into text, accepts 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. The app is compatible with styluses from Wacom, Adonit and Apple Pencil. A recent update supports the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil 2 and iOS 12.
Google Handwriting Input (free)
Google Handwriting Input, an Android-only app, translates your scribbles 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 over 100 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. One proponent of Google Handwriting Input is Emily Deaton, a financial journalist at Let Me Bank.
"Like with any handwriting app, it will take time to learn how you write, but the AI works very well - even against my very messy handwriting," Deaton said. "It translates as you write, perfect for when you are on the go and need something written out quickly."
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, Chrome, or the Gboard to search by writing with your finger or stylus.
MyScript Nebo ($7.99)
MyScript Nebo is specifically designed to 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 in addition to converting text into shareable documents.
New updates facilitate better performance with math objects as well as overall improvements to note management. A new library lets you view notebooks and collections in a side panel, which allows for rearranging documents via drag and drop. An enhanced search engine covers your whole library.
In addition to editing and formatting in 65 languages, you can 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 documents as text, Word, PDF or HTML. You can also copy, paste and edit diagrams to PowerPoint.
WritePad for iPad ($4.99)
If you prefer to write longhand but need to see your text in digital format, consider WritePad for iPad. 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.
When you're done with a word, the app automatically converts your scrawl to text. The app learns your writing style to reduce mistakes. Gestures let you select, cut, copy, paste and insert special characters. Four recognition modes let you enter cursive, print, numeric text for phone numbers and internet language for email addresses and URLs. Updates include a new invert toolbar colors option and better integration with the file manager. It is optimized for iOS 11 or later and the third generation iPad Pro.
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, an 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 is a keyboard app that provides handwriting conversion to text in a variety of apps like email, notes and social posts. Semantic databases, combined with the MyScript engine, let you search, browse the web and complete online forms. You can choose the font size, auto-scroll area width, word spacing and more. Updates improve the built-in dictionaries and streamline Apple Pencil usability.
As you begin to write, Mazec displays predictive suggestions and phrases to choose from so you usually don't have to write out an entire word before the app completes it. Mazec intelligently detects your choices, learns specific phrases and even offers emojis – 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 than the one you signed in with. It works on Android or iOS.
GoodNotes 5 ($7.99)
If you seek a powerful notetaking and PDF annotation app with handwriting recognition, check out the updated GoodNotes 5 for searchable notebook and document creation.
The app's pen tool offers a choice of letter colors and thicknesses. Shape recognition automatically creates recognizable shapes from freehand drawings. Work with text boxes and images and move items around as well as zoom, scroll and turn pages.
"We love that we can draw and doodle as well as translate our scribbled notes," Ian Kelly, vice president of operations at NuLeaf Naturals, said. "We enable sharing so everyone in the meeting can use their iPads or laptops to contribute. I like that it is searchable too. It's more natural to jot down a note than typing it out and keeps us engaged with each other during pitches and sessions."
Version 5 adds features like horizontal and vertical flexible scrolling, the ability to create an unlimited number of folders and subfolders, and search capabilities via handwritten notes, typed text or document and folder titles. The new version also features shortcuts to various pages, documents, or folders; a QuickNotes feature that gets your notes started quickly; and an option to display documents as lists.
An improved ink algorithm eases the writing experience. Updated brush pen and shape tools offer more colorful and creative notes while a new template library offers distinctive covers and pages. GoodNotes now supports the new iPad Pro and the second-generation Apple Pencil. With iCloud, you can sync your notebooks across all your iOS devices.
Pen to Print (free)
Credit: Serendi LTD
In a variation on the handwriting recognition concept, Pen to Print reads scanned handwritten documents and converts them into editable, searchable digital text that can be stored on your device or within a cloud service.
The app's handwriting OCR (optical character recognition) engine extracts text from paper documents, like letters, school notes, meeting notes, and grocery lists, allowing those who prefer to write in longhand the freedom to continue.
The handwriting recognition system works with block letters, cursive and script. Thierry Tremblay, CEO and founder of Kohezion, said he highly recommends the application.
"It is very simple, straightforward, user-friendly, fast, and pretty accurate," Tremblay said of Pen to Print. "It's working great on both my iPad and over my smartphones. One of my co-workers is also practicing it on her Android tablet and also very gratified."
A premium monthly and yearly subscription plans let you save your text to a file, copy, email, add to Notes, or share on Message, WhatsApp, Hangout, WeChat, Messenger, and Telegram. You can transfer the text to word processors like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or export to Evernote, OneNote or Google Keep. The app works with iOS 9 or later and Android 4.4 and later in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Additional reporting by Andrew Martins