The boom in handwriting tech

It wasn’t long ago when many were proclaiming that handwriting was dying a slow death and moving towards obsolescence. But as more and more end users, and hence OEMs, have demanded multimodal mobile products with handwriting options, more products have grown to accommodate them.

We’ve seen a strong pivot in the industry toward increased discussion of the productivity benefits of digital writing almost everywhere—and it’s safe to say those doomsday predictions have been proven wrong. Here are some specifics on why:

  • Handwriting is increasingly being built into new tech. Handwriting is built into the recently announced Chromebooks—as Buzzfeed notes, ‘Google goes after Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s iPad Pro with its new premium Samsung Chromebook Pro and Plus laptop-tablet hybrids.’ You’ll also find it highlighted in descriptions of new Asus notebooks many featuring the Asus Pen and in various other places such as this recent article in Business News Daily. Major vendors including Microsoft and Apple have in recent months gone out of their way to integrate and promote the pen capability in their own technologies. Microsoft recently announced a new Surface device with a pen they claim is the “fastest in the world” and promises to provide an improved experience to the user.
  • Handwriting drove the largest sales in tablet computing last year. Detachable (2-1) tablet sales were the only sector of tablets that boomed last year when other devices either plateaued or decreased in sales. One reason was users were demanding both mobility and productivity. Customers want two things in the devices they travel with: The first is mobility, and the second is multi-modal input (i.e., options for handwritten input, as well as voice and keyboard-driven input). Digital writing has come of age and is now often preferred to virtual keyboard input for note taking.
  • Handwriting is being built into unusual things—like cars—where it was never a part of before. Automotive manufacturers have found writing is the least distractive way for the driver to input information in a vehicle. In fact, regulators most often allow use of digital writing input while the car is in motion. Today, handwriting capabilities are included in many luxury cars such as Audi, Mercedes and Lexus. But, according to Frost & Sullivan, handwriting technology in vehicles will grow at a rate of more than 34 percent through 2020, and by 2018, you should expect to it be included in a dramatically broader range of vehicles and price points from manufacturers such as Volkswagen, GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Lexus and Toyota.

Why do people seem to prefer handwriting as a computer input option? One reason might be that for many people, handwriting simply feels natural. Seventy percent of us still spend more than an hour a day using a pen. What’s been missing, until recent years, was perhaps not so much a replacement for handwriting, but instead, better technologies for a satisfying user experience and the ability to integrate digital writing into the rest of our digital documents. We’re now seeing that both items are addressed today by using an active pen enabled device and using Nebo, which is built utilizing MyScript Interactive Ink technology. Interactive Ink, or MyScript Ink as it is often called, transcends traditional digital ink barriers and is as interactive as text entered from a keyboard. Digital writing is now also easily transformed into documents for the digital world.

Cognitive benefits of digital writing—help unleash the mind

Another reason digital writing is gaining in popularity may be that it has both cognitive and mental health benefits. Handwriting not only strengthens motor skills in children, it provides critical tools for developing your brain, building your memory, and grasping and expressing complex ideas. It can make you smarter, it has a calming effect, and can help better coordinate the left and right sides of the brain.

In one Indiana University study, researchers conducted brain scans on preliterate five-year-olds before and after receiving different sorts of letter-learning instruction. In children who had spent time writing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and “adult-like” than in those who had simply looked at and tapped letters on a keyboard. One study found that using a digital pen improves students’ reasoning, simply because a pen interface stimulates people to write more nonlinguistic content (diagrams, symbols) than those who work with a keyboard, and that, in turn, expressing more nonlinguistic content directly facilitates nine to 38 percent improvements in thinking and reasoning about math, science and everyday tasks.

"It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time," said Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University, who led the study. Victoria Dunckley, M.D. Mental Wealth, also recently chimed in on the benefits of “The Radical Notion of Returning to Handwriting”. And about that ‘non-linguistic content.’ One of the tremendous advantages of good digital writing technology is that, unlike the mouse and keyboard option of using a word processor for input, you’re not limited to letters and numbers — you can sketch, create and link shapes, create diagrams, build mind maps, type and solve mathematical equations, and even jot down musical annotation. Truly enriching. Creative thinking is greatly enhanced.

MyScript has been a pioneer in handwriting recognition and digital ink management technology for years—that’s why, this year at CES, it was no surprise that its Nebo technology won the 2017 Mobile Apps Showdown.

We’re proud to have been ahead of the curve on recognizing the productivity available with digital writing. But the widespread growth in its prevalence has just started. There will be all sorts of digital writing technology advancements during the rest of 2017 – including MyScript Nebo’s imminent move onto the Android platform and other developments you’ll see announced at the world’s only conference devoted to digital writing – future.write();.

Stay tuned.

Posted on