Physically Writing on the iPad Pro

My handwriting is absolute chicken scratch. So when computers, email, smart phones and tablets entered the scene I jumped on board with typing as my main writing medium and never looked back. But when I started doing more creative writing and needed to start planning out creative work I started going back to the old "pen and paper." Turns out there is a reason for this. When you use a writing utensil such as a pen or a pencil to write you are engaging the creative side of your brain more than if you were typing or talking. It turns out we are quite the sophisticated little machines and the biomechanics of our hands are very much linked to our brains and how we think.

I wasn't kidding, my handwriting is really bad.

I wasn't kidding, my handwriting is really bad.

As you can see from my actual handwriting above, switching over to physically writing out even some of my notes may not be the best idea. I really should have been a doctor instead of an engineer. Enter My Script Stylus for iOS. This iOS app adds a 3rd party keyboard to your iOS device and this keyboard is unlike any keyboard you are used to using. Instead of keys you are given a blank space at the bottom of the screen to scribble out text, and you can use either your finger or a stylus (or even the Apple Pencil if you have an iPad Pro). The My Script Stylus keyboard then takes your "chicken scratch" and converts it into typed text into the application you are currently using. So you get the best of both worlds, the ability to engage the creative side of your brain by physically writing out words but you also get the conversion of that writing into a much easier on the eyes typed conversion. As you can see from the screenshot I took above, I was using the My Script Stylus for iOS keyboard within the 1Writer iOS app I used to write this blog post. From the screenshot you can see that the app didn't quite interpret my chicken scratch correctly and had incorrectly deciphered the written word "chicken" into something else entirely. I was writing rather quickly with this example to demonstrate the true extent of just how bad my handwriting can be. Overall the app does an excellent job of correctly converting handwriting into typed text.

So why should you care about this app? If you are like me and find yourself doing creative work or some rather basic note taking and want to retain more of the content you are taking notes about then physically writing out your thoughts is a really great way to go and this app gives you that ability. Here are just a few of the things I use this app for:

  1. DayOne journal entries. I keep a daily journal and while it takes me just a bit longer to write out my entires as opposed to typing them, I like feeling that writing into my journal gives me. It makes me feel much more personally connected to what I am writing.
  2. OmniOutliner note taking and outlining. If I am taking notes in a meeting or a conference then I find I can retain more of that information when I write it out. So physically write the notes out with the Apple Pencil inside the OmniOutliner app and as long as my notes aren't too extensive the combination works really well. If I am outlining a paper or a presentation I also like physically writing out my thoughts and use OmniOutliner to do that as well.
  3. Mindmapping with iThoughts for iOS. Mindmapping by design is a very creative endeavor, so it only makes sense that physically writing out text is a more tactile and engaging way to go. Also, mind mapping doesn't typically involve a ton of words so writing out things as a way to get ideas into a mindmap in no slower than typing them.

I'll give you one example of where the My Script Stylus for iOS app really surprised me with a use case I didn't anticipate. Last week I was in Scotland for an international Systems Engineering conference and some of the sessions were extremely full. In one session I ended up standing in the back of the room because every seat was taken. This meant that typing notes into my iPad Pro just wasn't going to happen. Except, maybe it could. I pulled out my Apple Pencil and held my iPad Pro in portrait mode in my left hand and used my write hand to physically write my notes into OmniOutliner using the My Script Stylus app. It worked beautifully.

There are some negative aspect to using the app though. Numbers and symbols are not handled well with the app. Also, from time to time it gets words completely wrong. 99% of the time it nails it and for basic notes this is more than good enough. Probably the biggest drawback I have encountered so far is that the backspace and delete functions are right below the writing space on the screen so if you aren't careful you can start deleting or hit the backspace key inadvertently while writing. This rarely happens but when it does it is a real pain. Overall I have really enjoyed using the app and I suspect many of you will as well.

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