Microsoft demos smartwatch handwriting recognition

October 13, 2014 | 11:51

Tags: #graffiti #newton #smartwatch

Companies: #microsoft #microsoft-research #palm

Microsoft Research has released an early version of a handwriting recognition system for small-screen devices, hoping to get feedback from Android Wear users as to its usefulness.

When personal digital assistants (PDAs) were all the rage, handwriting recognition was the in thing. Everything from Apple's Newton to Palm's family of palmtops had its own system, some based on single-character recognition and others based on fluid handwriting. Accuracy, however, was never great. Synthetic alphabet systems like Palm's Graffiti typically scored the highest, while Apple's more complex fluid recognition system led to the creation of the joke: 'How many Newton users does it take to change a lightbulb? Foux! There to eat lemons, axe gravy soup.'

As screens got larger and higher resolution, handwriting recognition lost favour to the simpler solution of an on-screen keyboard. While some platforms come with support for handwriting recognition based on a pen input, it's rarely used - but it's the inspiration for Microsoft Research's latest release.

The Analog Keyboard, released late last week by the company, takes the one-character-at-a-time recognition system popularised by Palm's Graffiti and extends it to support a natural, rather than synthetic, alphabet. Using a Casio calculator watch released in 1984 as its inspiration, the team behind the keyboard have ported it to Google's Android Wear platform for use on smartwatches - devices far too small to have a usable on-screen keyboard without requiring a fine-tipped stylus - with the tip of a finger.

'Handwriting, unlike speech, is discreet and not prone to background noise. And unlike soft keyboards, where many keys have to share the small touch surface, handwriting methods can offer the entire screen (or most of it) for each symbol,' the team explains of its creation. 'This allows each letter to be entered rather comfortably, even on small devices. In fact, it has been shown that some handwriting systems can be used without even looking at the screen. Finally, handwriting interfaces require very little design changes to run on round displays, which are becoming increasingly popular.'

More details about the keyboard are available on the official project page, along with a prototype download for Android Wear owners. Those not lucky enough to have such a device strapped to their wrist can see the keyboard in action in a supporting video.
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