Services & Software

Stack keyboard brings handwriting recognition to iOS

Most third-party iOS keyboards are, well, keyboards. This one lets you scribble instead. But is that really preferable?

Prefer handwriting to typing? MyScript Stack gives you the option. MyScript

Remember the PalmPilot? To enter data, you'd scribble letters -- one on top of another -- in a dedicated area below the screen.

For any iPhone user who's thought to himself, "You know, I really miss that," there's MyScript Stack. This "handwriting keyboard" replaces the QWERTY with a dedicated area for scribbling letters, one on top of another.

That might come as good news to someone who prefers a stylus to a keyboard, or who's constantly fat-fingering onscreen keys. The Stack input area provides plenty of room for entering letters with either a stylus or fingertip, and there's zero lag between your strokes and its recognition of them. It's all very smooth, in a way that early PDA-powered attempts at handwriting recognition weren't.

But is it really any faster or easier than the stock iOS 8 keyboard, or an amped-up third-party keyboard like SwiftKey or Swype? I'm not sold.

For one thing, there's simply no question that it takes longer to draw a letter than it does to tap it. Granted, if you're not intimately familiar with the layout of a QWERTY keyboard and therefore have to hunt for every letter, drawing might prove faster. But if you know how to type, Stack will definitely slow you down.

The app does offer predictive text, same as all the aforementioned keyboards. So that helps. But in my tests, Stack frequently delivered weird results, especially with regard to capitalization. Sometimes it would capitalize letters that were clearly meant to be lowercase (like words in the middle of a sentence), and sometimes it would actually mix capital and lowercase letters within the same word. Draw the letter "c," for example, and you might get uppercase or you might get lowercase.

The old PalmPilot solved this dilemma perfectly by dividing the input area into sections: lowercase letters were drawn on the left, numbers and symbols on the right, and uppercase across the middle. Stack might benefit from a similar option.

The app also suffers from less-than-stellar recognition. Draw a lowercase "h," for instance, and you might find yourself with a "4." And therein lies the problem with virtually all handwriting recognition: everyone scribbles differently. My "h" is a little sloppy, sure, but I'm not going to use a "4" in the middle of a word. The predictive text helps compensate for this at times, but in the end I simply couldn't warm to Stack. Too slow, too imprecise, too frustrating.

Fortunately, it's free, so you've got nothing to lose by trying it. Maybe with some bug fixes and improvements it could give handwriting fans the input option they've longed for.