iPad Handwriting Recognition – A Look At PhatPad the iPad Handwriting App

Handwriting Recognition iPad

It seems to have been a holy grail with mobile computers we had available to us in the past, where there should be a function that would allow handwriting recognition. It seemed important that text that you wrote with the pen by hand would be turned into text that could be edited. Now when I think of this, it seems weird. More likely that we are to write with a pen and have it saved as an image of a note with scrawly horrible ugly writing than having the computer converting our handwriting on the iPad to text that can be edited. Why would we want to have a handwriting converting tool when we have keyboards that allow us to type in text very quickly. Or better still when we can use software like iPad Dragon dictation that allow us to talk to the computer and have our voice faster converted into text that can be used in various applications.

Handwriting recognition used to be a joke

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In fact in the past with mobile computing, mostly represented by devices like the Apple Newton, it was more of a joke where you’d write something and have a good laugh about what the computer spat out as text or you would be trying to guess what your handwriting actually said. Computers now are a lot more powerful and there is more memory available and generally we have computers that can do amazing things. So it’s not surprising that there are still some people that would like to see handwriting recognition for iPad and have the handwritten text that is created, using either the finger or a stylus, turned into text.

On the amazing iPad there are applications for just about everything. I have found two or three applications which actually do the handwriting recognition for iPad. We can have a look at what are the best options available for the best handwriting app for iPad. I have been quite pleased with the handwriting on ipad and the results I have got from it so far.


Our first option for iPad handwriting recognition would be to use a drawing program or a run of the mill, note-taking program and to send the documents we create in those application into Evernote which can supposedly turn handwriting into text. In my tests of this I have not and much success and I am wondering if Evernote really does do some conversion of handwriting into text. It should at least make it so that words handwritten will be converted into searchable words but so far that eludes me. Evernote for handwriting recognition is not anywhere near what we can get from a proper iPad handwriting app.

Phatpad for handwriting recognition on the iPad

PhatPad iPad handwriting

I was lucky enough to get a redeem voucher from the makers of the app to be able to do a review of the app properly, so thanks to the developers for that. I will still be as objective as I can be about the app and if there are criticisms then I dare say they will either point out the error of my ways or tell me that they are working on fixing or upgrading something. The download is nearly 70mb to start with and when I first start it up I see first the nice blue logo and then it runs into the instructions on how to use. First ting I have to do is to turn it to portrait mode so that I can see where the arrows are pointing too. There is an instruction at the top of the page telling me to do that.

Of course the sensible thing to do is to use the app to tell the new user how to use it. So I see a colourful page with drawings and notes and I can learn from the pages what to do. First up is the pen mode. Nice that Phatpad remembers the last 50 styles of pen you have used. Very easy to start handwriting and drawing on the page with my finger. I must get my hands on a stylus to try out with the iPad.

Then there is the Tools menu with eight options from inserting pictures to setting the PhatPad app options. I was impressed the first time I chose the insert text option that I was given a screen with information on how to do it in a Quick Start Guide. Seems like it will recognise joined up writing and it will deserve a medal if it can decipher mine. There is an input panel and you have to write in between the lines. It has a dictionary to help choose the right words, and for that reason it tells you to write complete words. There are gestures to learn to put in the punctuation like a backwards capital L to give a return key push. There are also buttons to enter a space or a full stop or do a back space.

My First Attempt at Handwriting On iPad

I started with writing my name and then ‘how does this work?’ and I was impressed with its efficiency at converting my scrawl into text. I tried the backwards L and it put in the text I had written in the yellow box area which is the text input writing area. I quickly found that the writing was recognised and the text box got filled with text. The text box has a bounding area with blue dots on the corners that you use to resize the text area. It took me a while to work out how to get the menu to come up for the text I had already put in so that I could edit some more or delete or whatever.

Moving Text Around in PhatPad the Handwriting App For iPad

Text boxes can be moved to the front or to the back of other objects on the page. It is easy enough to move the text boxes around on the page, by touching the bounding box around the text and sliding the text box where you want it. You do have to get the line around and not have the dinger inside the box area, if you want to do the moving action. If you have the finger inside the area then the text inside the box will scroll. One of the options is for the style of the text, there are a number of default styles to chose from. I expect that you can create your own too.

If Phatpad gets the text wrong in the converting when you are using the yellow box to enter the text, then you can tap in the area where it is showing what it has guessed and it will sometimes give you a number of alternatives to chose from. It helps with the speed of entry as you don’t have to do a backspace gesture to delete the last letters to try writing the word again.

I thought I would be able to do a zoom in to see something closer with the classic pinch and zoom on the iPad, but that wasn’t possible. What you can do though is to select area of text you have entered already and using the bounding box around it change the size of it. At least you can make space on a page to add more notes or just insert a new page.

PhatPad Options

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I started to delve into the options for this iPad handwriting recognition app and found the help files in there too. Whist reading I found that the app is very much fully featured judging by the number of options available. Settings for the text recognition and the use of the dictionary and how it goes about putting in the text into the box, whether you want to use your own user dictionary or not. There is even a section In there to help you write in a way that it does a better job by showing good letter shapes for both capital letters and also for the lower case. PhatPad looks like it will accept even fairly flowing and flowery letter shapes. What it comes down with handwriting recognition iPad applications is how it does in real world use and lets get back to my first impressions.

Sharing and synchronisation

You can have notes sent to DropBox, to Evernote and Google Docs or you can use Email to move the notes you make into other applications so that you can use them or just access them for reading. In the email setting you can choose to send as a PDF document. In the list of documents at the bottom there is a Sync with Dropbox button that will make sure that all the docs in the list are in the PhatPad folder in DropBox. This only moves files in the PhatPad format so that they are backed up as I didn’t have an application that would open the file on my Mac. There is a good integration with Evernote as I was able to share a document nearly perfectly. It worked but I got an error message along the way. The file still opened up in EverNote as a PDF despite the message.

Back to using the PhatPad App

Handwriting iPad – Basic shape recognition for creating diagrams

Basic shape recognition is a neat trick for drawing rectangles, circles, triangles, lines and arrows with the Detect Shapes switch turned on it will convert a scabby looking hand drawn line into a perfectly straight line and the same with the other shapes. It works pretty good – great for making diagrams like flow charts quickly. Then you can use the insert picture and the clip art to add pictures into the page. Once you have the picture in from the clipart library or from your own photo gallery then you can do the resizing that you want to do to suit your page design.

Other converting handwriting to text options

If you want to write on the screen and not in the text box for text input you definitely want as text, you can write your note and then select it later to then choose to convert to text. I have tried it on some text I wrote on the screen and it worked a treat. I am getting to like PhatPad after a short while of acquainting myself with it. All you have to do is to grab the text with a marquee selection box and you immediately get the menu on screen with one of the options to convert to text, along with cut, copy, delete and change ink. Handy to be able to change the colour of the ink if you want to. You could have text the same colour as the background to have hidden text that can be selected and revealed at a later date.

Voice notes

You can record one voice note per document which is not that useful. I would have liked to see that I could record a note or more per page and access the note by tapping an icon created by the app. To delete a note you hit the record button to bring up the controls for the voice note. I wondered if I could add to a audio note I had already recorded and seems I couldn’t I had to delete what I had and start another recording. So audio note taking is quite limited in the PhatPad application but then this is not the Unique Selling Proposition for PhatPad this is for making great looking notes with images and especially having the the yucky looking handwriting that we all have now because we use a keyboard more than we use a pen and paper. Well that is true of us geeks anyway.

Multipage documents and presentations

The pages menu is tucked away in the tools menu just above the button for Presentation mode. When presenting you can tap or swipe the screen to move between pages and it is taking me some time to work out how to get back to editing mode. OK I got it you have to touch the top of the screen. It is possible to record a presentation of your handwriting on iPad and play it back but I felt that PhatPad was weak with that function. There is something to be said for doing one thing – handwriting recognition – and doing it well. If I wanted a presentation I would open up Keynote.

Overall view of PhatPad as an iPad handwriting recognition tool

I have to say I like what it does and that it does the thing that is its core function brilliantly. If you like to write then you might well prefer to get a Boxwave capacitive stylus and write your notes in the old fashioned way but with a twist. Convert the writing to text as you do it or make the notes and then convert it later. Whatever works best for you. As a note taking application I think it is a useful addition to the arsenal of note taking applications. There will be occasions when an app that is more concentrated on recording audio on the iPad alongside notes and for that you could use SoundNote or AudioNote The Dragon Dictate app only lets you convert speech to text in very small chunks and you can’t use during a lecture anyway, so you might as well forget about Dragon Dictate as an option for that type of note taking.

The question to ask yourself is ‘How much do I like writing by hand and is it quicker than typing for me?’ If you answer yes to that question then PhatPad will be the perfect handwriting to text iPad note taking application for you. Another reason for using handwriting apps for iPad is for writers that think better with a pen in the hand than they do with a keyboard in front of them. Some authors are old fashioned like that and when they have to get what they have written by hand it will be so much easier to convert it in Phatpad than it will be to have to completely rewrite when typing into the computer after that very first draft. This would be a good way to start getting the ideas out of the creative writers mind and into Scrivener.

I like to use a keyboard instead of an iPad handwriting app because my handwriting is so scrawly and ugly but Phatpad did a great job of converting what looks like a dead spider dipped in ink and dragged across the page (My handwriting) into editable text. Well done PhatPad, this type of working will not suit everyone but for quite a few people, in the right circumstances it will be just the job. For sure with PhatPad and iPad handwriting recognition you can create some attractive looking notes using images and different colours of text, you can do mind mapping or make diagrams that will be effective for learning purposes. It is easy with a Boxwave stylus to do handwriting on iPad with PhatPad, the app that gives us iPad handwriting to text.
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