Penning the next Great American Novel on the iPad Pro may have just gotten easier thanks to Apple's latest handwriting user interface patent.
If the patent becomes commercialized in future tablets, iPad Pro owners won't have to resort to attaching third-party Bluetooth keyboards or pecking on the touchscreen keyboard. Instead, users could do it the old-fashioned way – scribbling words on the screen with their fingertips or using a stylus to ink their thoughts. It's Apple version of the digital quill.
The handwriting input area includes shortcuts to add a space, return, numbers and punctuations. This appears in a narrow bar just below the handwriting space.
The patent does not explicitly detail that a stylus or digital input is required for handwriting use. Although you can scribble letters and words with your fingers on the iPad Pro's glass, composing a longer email may be easier with a digital pen. Previous rumors suggest that the iPad Pro will include such an option when it debuts.
Handwriting UI and processing
As there is essentially just one line on which users can write in the handwriting panel, Apple details how it makes handwriting easy in the patent application filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).
One method is to continuously clear handwritten characters once you move onto the next character or word. This way, when you reach the other end of the screen, all prior written text would be cleared, and then you could re-start from the beginning. As you're writing, the handwritten text at the bottom gets converted to digital text at the top.
This is similar to using a software keyboard, but rather than having a software keyboard, you have a soft input panel for handwriting.
In another example, Apple details an interface where handwritten characters fade, rather than completely clear out, as you write along across the panel to the other edge of the screen. Once you reach the end, you can write over the faded characters to start anew.
Apple's patent details instantaneous conversion of handwriting input to digital text, but doesn't mention if handwritten notes can be converted to digital notes using optical character recognition, or OCR.
Samsung's Note application on the Galaxy Note series and Microsoft's OneNote program on Windows tablets support this feature, which is useful for students and business executives taking notes in lectures and meetings.
This feature differs from instantaneous conversion in that you can capture your entire note with handwriting, as if you're writing on paper, and then convert the notes after to have a digital transcription later. This allows for a more natural way to capture longer notes or documents, and OCR allows those notes to be searchable.
Additionally, some users may prefer to keep a copy of their entire handwritten notes, rather than the transcribed copy, which does not seem possible in this recent patent application.
The iPad Pro is anticipated to arrive with a 12.9-inch screen. Previous reports suggest that the tablet may launch as early as this year, though rumored production difficulties could delay the tablet's debut until 2016.
The tablet may come with Apple's new USB-C port, which debuted on the new MacBook, along with stereo speakers, making it suitable for entertainment and productivity.
In the past, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had dismissed the stylus, and to date no iPhone or iPad model has come with a pen of any kind. However, Apple has been known to change its mind, and if the stylus makes its debut on the iPad Pro, it could make the tablet even more attractive for enterprise use.