iPad OS’ Scribble Is the Future. Just Not Quite Yet

Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

This year, Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) was jam-packed with new and exciting additions to the Apple ecosystem. With so many new features, one or two may get lost in the stream. In particular, the announcement of Scribble on iPad OS 14 might have remained unnoticed.

What Apple did not mention is that Scribble works beyond just Apple Notes, or for simple text fields, like search boxes and form inputs. It can be used anywhere, where text can be typed, including, in 3rd party text editors. In fact, parts of this article were written by hand, using my Apple Pencil inside Bear Notes.

Why is it a game changer?

There are reasons why handwriting is among the best forms of creative expression known to people. Some studies indicate its positive effects on the brain. The combination of using a pen or pencil has been proven to unlock and strengthen sections of the cortex, related to cognitive abilities and creativity. Another great benefit of handwriting is that it slows one down. This gives time to the brain to relax and formulate thoughts more clearly.

Scribble rises out of the ashes

Scribble is Apple’s second attempt to mix handwritten and typed text. Few people still associate the name “Scribble” with the Newton digital assistant of the early 90s:

The idea was later adopted and widely used by the early digital assistants of the late 90s and early 00s, only to fall into relative obscurity in more recent years. Almost three decades later, it has a chance to rise from the ashes. This time, stepping on three decades of optical character recognition (OCR) machine learning (ML) and hardware technology advancements.

This is just the beginning.

From the little I have managed to play with Scribble on iPad OS 14, it isn’t without its flaws. The character recognition is good, but something gets jarring in the way the handwritten text disappears and gets replaced by its typed version. While writing, I often stop mid-sentence, decide to scratch some part of what I have written and choose a different direction. With the way Scribble works right now, I always need to wait for the text to get converted, before I can scratch it out. With too many interactions happening at the same time, the virtual key- board would occasionally pop up, some keys would get touched by my palm, or the cursor would fly in a different direction. It is not a super pleasant experience. I much better prefer the interaction model of Nebo. It would let you keep your handwriting without explicitly trying to convert anything on the fly. Converting to typed text happens at the user’s request, by tapping the handwritten block twice.

I can’t wait to see what direction Apple will bring Scribble towards. Is it the future of user interaction? What do you think?

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Originally published at https://preslav.me on July 25, 2020.

I am a genuinely curious individual on a mission to help digital creators and startups realize their vision. Follow my journey: https://preslav.me