Google adds handwriting on mobiles

Sometimes Google just warms my inner geek by making technology do the cool stuff it should be doing, the stuff that science fiction has been promising us for years and never quite comes off. I had one of those moments today.

Google has just released a new feature which allows you to handwrite your search terms on your Android or Apple phone and tablet. Now, if you are anything like me, getting data into your phone is a total pain, my big fingers fumble about those little keys all the time and I’m constantly having to go back and correct myself. I could use the dictation feature but that’s awkward if I’m out and about and even in a quiet spot I find it fallible. This new Google feature allows you to write on the screen, which is just so much easier.

Now it’s important to put this in perspective. I’ve been trying out on-screen writing since I bought a Newton back before the flood. It’s never worked for me, partly because the technology hasn’t been great but largely because my handwriting is simply awful. This, however, is an isolated space and the implementation is good. For searching I only need to get a couple of words input, I’m not trying to take notes during a meeting or anything like that. So for a couple of words I can make my writing a bit clearer. Also, because you are only putting in a word or two it doesn’t matter where you write on the screen – you can write a couple of letters at the top and the next ones at the bottom or just write them one at a time in the middle of the screen. It seems to work perfectly for me.

There are a couple of limitations. The first, on iOS devices at least, is that you actually have to be on the Google search page within your browser for it to work. It doesn’t work on just any page when you go to do a search using the search facility from the browser bar. Strangely it also does not work using the Google app – which surely can only be a matter of time. Finally, it works best if you treat it like typing for text input with nicely spaced letters; don’t expect too much if you scribble off a few words in beautiful cursive script.

To make the handwriting feature work all you need to do is open google.com.au in your mobile browser of choice and then click on the settings link. On the iPhone that’s near the bottom of the page, on the iPad it’s the cog near the top of the page. Then press the radio button to enable handwriting. After saving I had to refresh the page before it started working. There are full instructions on Google’s blog if that’s not clear enough.

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