i(Pad)OS Handwriting Update: Apple Scribble #amwriting

Illustration of using Apple Scribble
Apple Scribble works on iPads compatible with Apple Pencil

It’s been a while since I reviewed the state of i(Pad)OS handwriting. Part of the reason for my recent purchase of an Adonit Note+ was just so as I could check out Apple’s new iPad handwriting input, Scribble.

Apple Scribble

I’m a big handwriting input fan. I wanted to like Scribble. I really, really did. I tested it with Scrivener and Ulysses, as well as Bear, Pages, Word, Notes, and Google Docs.

Folks, it is not ready for prime time.

Scribble’s fine for short text messages, data entry fields, and the like—text fields that don’t wrap. At least it’s no worse than hasty keyboarding. I’ve seen posts on the Scrivener forum that suggest it’s useful in pure editing mode. People find its ability to select by circling text a big help, and if you’re only substituting one word for another its quirks aren’t as challenging. But attempting to write a paragraph longer than one line drove me to screaming frustration, then back to WritePad in short order.

Scribble recognises handwriting well. It also recognises fast—too fast, and I can’t slow it down. So then I have a stray mark that may or may not be a letter, and may or may not be the beginning of a word I was trying to write. Convincing Scribble to erase any stray mark I accidentally make is an exercise in futility. I can’t erase a single letter, only an entire word. Undo in that case undoes too much—all the text I’d written since I started Scribbling. I can pop up the Scribble keyboard, but I find that I need it so often I just need to leave it open. If I’m going to do that why not just use a handwriting keyboard to begin with?

In order to use Scribble inside text that wraps, you need to have really tiny handwriting that will fit inside a normal line of text. If you stray, your writing will “scratch” over text you’ve already written in the previous line or the next, erasing it. I used the Undo button so much just trying it that I did more undoing than writing. Other possible solutions are zooming (not possible in Ulysses), enlarging the text, or triple-spacing lines, but the last two I’d need to revert later when I switched back to typing.

I could restrict myself to only adding text to the end of a document—but even that didn’t work for me. There was never enough space at the bottom for me to write without deleting, not even in Scrivener or Ulysses with typewriter mode turned on. (Yes, I have big handwriting. I don’t know how other people write so small as to be able to fit their signatures on the tiny spaces available on most forms.)

Recommendations:

While Scribble is fine for short text messages and data entry in online forms, I still recommend handwriting keyboard apps for significant text entry in editing and word processing apps. The keyboards avoid the space available problem simply by providing a dedicated data entry area. An added benefit is that they’re also usable on iPhone.

If you’re one of the folks who prefers to use a note-taking app, then copy-and-paste large batches of recognised handwriting, you can give Scribble a try, but I suspect you’ll prefer your current method of working.

My recommended handwriting keyboards, in order of my personal preference:

  1. WritePad I (iPad) / Penquills (iPhone): Each takes time to set up to recognise your handwriting well, but I find the ability to remove mis-recognitions and typos before committing text to document to be a plus. (I prefer the “continuous handwriting” setup, in which I write over my previously recognised text to commit it to the document and start a new recognition, to the “recognition delay” setup, which is more like Scribble: The text is recognised and committed automatically after a configurable delay.)
  2. Selvy PenScript: The current handwriting keyboard most like the late lamented “MyScript Stylus”. It’s my favourite of the “automatic entry” handwriting keyboards (i.e., your handwriting is recognised and automatically committed to the document after a brief delay, like Scribble, WritePad/Penquills with recognition delay enabled, and MyScript Stylus). The recognition delay is configurable (I prefer a slightly longer delay) and alternate recognitions are provided so you can correct mis-recognitions immediately with a single tap.
  3. Mazec: It recognises English handwriting. However, it neither automatically commits your handwriting after delay (Scribble, Selvy PenScript) nor does it permit continuous writing by writing over the previously recognised text (WritePad, Penquills). No, you have to tap Enter after every recognition. It also recognises far fewer languages than either of the other two options. I suggest trying it only if neither of the first two options suits.

Adonit Note+ Stylus Review #amwriting

Adonit Note+ Stylus image

I finally gave in and bought an “Apple Pencil compatible” stylus, the Adonit Note+. Why this and not a genuine Apple Pencil 1st Generation for my iPad 6th Generation?

  • I’ve been using Adonit products for years now. I’ve chosen graphic and notetaking apps based on their compatibility with Adonit’s pressure sensitivity and programmable function buttons. Why give up that capability?
  • I finally saw a video review of the Note+ that made clear the fact that the Adonit really can work exactly like an Apple Pencil so far as basic drawing and tilt are concerned. This opens new apps to me for Pencil-based handwriting and drawing.
  • I already have accessories (like clips) for Adonit products.
  • The Note+ (USD $69.99) is already less expensive than the Apple Pencil (USD $99-129). Adonit’s Black Friday special made the price irresistible.
  • The Note+ is compatible with any iPad that will use either a Gen 1 or Gen 2 Apple Pencil. If I were to someday switch to an iPad Pro, the Note+ will make the jump with me.

So, how does it perform?

Apple Pencil compatibility: I’ve tried Apple Pencils in the Apple Store. I can’t detect any difference in performance between the Apple Pencil and the Adonit Note+. Both have lag-free response. Both detect stylus tilt & respond identically. The Adonit uses its own Bluetooth-connected pressure sensitivity as opposed to Pencil’s method, but my apps already interface with it.

The major difference I can see is in charging method. The 1st gen Apple Pencil charges off the iPad’s Lightning connector, and the 2nd gen off a magnetic charger on the iPad itself. The Adonit Note+ uses a USB-c charging cable. I’ve never had a problem with an Adonit stylus running out of change during the day no matter how much I use it, so I see this as a non-issue.

I concede that possibly if you’re in meetings or classes all day taking handwritten notes, this might be a problem. But at a minimum of $20 savings over an Apple Pencil, you can afford a cheap external battery charger. If Adonit’s claim of 1 hour of use for a 4 minute charge is close to accurate, you won’t need anything very powerful.

Adonit Pressure Sensitivity: Some Adonit-capable apps (example: Tayasui’s Sketches Pro) force use of Apple Pencil features instead of Adonit features with the Note+. Of those that support the Note+, I found that connection was a bit tricky (Hint: tap the pointwards function button just before you press on the connection circle.) But yes, in general Adonit pressure sensitivity and function buttons work just as I expect in Adonit-capable apps. Here’s a current list: Adonit Recommended Apps.

Recommendations: If you just want an Apple Pencil replacement and don’t use pressure sensitivity or tilt, I’d suggest the Adonit Note. At USD $49.99, it’s half the price of an Apple Pencil 1st generation, and should serve just as well. It you already have an investment in apps that support Adonit pressure sensitivity, the Note+ should get you the Apple Pencil compatibility for line drawing and tilt in addition to your current capabilities—but be sure to check Adonit’s current app list.

Ah, The Sensuous Feel of a Bare iPad Screen #amwriting

My beautiful new, naked iPad Air 2 with its Pencil by FiftyThree
I had forgotten.

I’ve kept my screens obscured beneath matte screen protectors for years. Firstly, I hate glare. Secondly, I had a major crush on screen-devouring Adonit Jot styluses. No longer.

A friend at Kleverdog Coworking chose a Pencil by FiftyThree. At first I sneered (to myself because David is a good friend) as the Pencil is not a precision stylus, is angle-sensitive instead of pressure-sensitive, and can’t be used with most screen protectors. But as I replaced screen protector after screen protector worn through by Jot products, I became a bit envious. Then my precision, pressure-sensitive Jot Touch failed under warranty. I replaced it, and the replacement failed under warranty — in exactly the same way.

I put the Jot Touch on the shelf rather than go through yet another return — replace — fail cycle. I told myself I’d get it working somehow. But I kept using my Jot Mini and Jot Pro, and replacing screen protectors every six months.

When my dear old iPad 3 failed two weeks ago, I was faced not only with replacing it but also getting a bunch of new accessories that would fit the sleeker iPad Air 2 I was buying. I knew that the Jot Touch was notorious for not working well with the iPad Air 2 — if I could get it working at all. Apple also claims that the Air 2 has an anti-reflective coating, reducing evil glare. So I decided to get a Pencil by FiftyThree — and let my iPad Air 2 go commando.

I had forgotten how silky-smooth a naked iOS screen is. I did not remember how crisp the Retina display is when not buried beneath a matte overlay. The anti-reflective coating does some good — the glare is not as painful as it was with the old iPad 3.

Every moment of handwriting and drawing with my 53 Pencil is a joy. I’m even using the iOS Scrivener beta with the on-screen keyboard. I briefly considered letting my iPhone 5c go commando as well — but I decided that was going too far.

I did replace its nasty, scarred matte screen protector with a new, glossy oleophobic one, though. Now my iPhone feels almost as nice as my new iPad.

David, you were right.

The Motivating Power of New Toys

2015/01/img_2536.jpgWell, I seem to be done for now as far as new toys tools for writing are concerned. The fancy Adonit Jot Touch with Pixelpoint stylus was a Christmas gift. I love it to the point of keeping it under my bed at night along with my iPad, so I can write down wee-hours inspiration. The apps that I’ve been blogging about since November have been joined by the updated version of an old occasional flame, iThoughts.

iThoughts is a mind-mapping app for iOS that has everything I could ever want for visual outlining. It’s a lot less linear than traditional outliners–a good thing as I tend to make “outlines” that look like this:
2015/01/img_2533-0.pngThe odd circular thing–well, I could do that freehand in Noteshelf, or in Scapple on the Mac, but I have some auxiliary chunks that import well as classical outlines. I don’t feel like typing them in by hand, nor like drawing them by hand with all their little boxes…

Anyway, having gotten tech out of my system for a while, I’ve been making progress on actually writing. Good progress. I hope to keep it up.