Apple Pencil

Writing on an iPad Pro in Cramped Spaces


Is it just me or are airplanes getting smaller? I swear I used to be able to get work done on flights, but the space between your chest and the back of the seat in front of you seems to keep shrinking (and I swear it's not because I'm growing a belly). Anymore I don't even have enough space to prop up my ipad Pro much less type on it. But I have a secret weapon. It's an app called MyScript Stylus and I've written about it before. But this time I am writing about the app while on a cramped airplane.


Luckily the people on either side of me on this particular flight were asleep, so I didn't have to explain why I was taking a picture of my lap

The MyScript Stylus is essentially a 3rd party keyboard you can install on your iPad. But instead of giving you a keyboard with keys it replaces the keyboard with a space to physically write on and then converts your handwriting to typed text within any app you are in. In the picture above you can see the blank space just below the row of buttons.

I am always pressed for time, so if there is any way for me to take advantage of a long airplane flight and actually get something done I will do it! On my flight today, for example, I was able to brainstorm a rough plan for a Project I have for my summer intern using the iThoughts mind mapping program. I was also able to outline my next long blog post (I really only outline the really long ones) using OmniOutliner. And of course, I was able to write this blog post. MyScript Stylus allows me to physically write on the surface of my iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil and converts that handwriting to text. My handwriting is rubbish, but the app does an excellent job of interpreting my "chicken scratch." Being able to lay the iPad down flat and turn it at a slight angle allows me to write, even through I don't have enough space to move my elbows away from my sides. I wouldn't want to write a long article this way but I have to admit there is a certain satisfaction in physically writing out something as opposed to just typing it.

iPhone 7 & Apple Pencil


We are only a few days away from the iPhone 7 announcement and if you read any Apple news then you most likely won't be surprised by anything that will be announced on September 7th. But what if there is one more surprise?

I've have been a huge fan of the Apple Pencil ever since I got the iPad Pro. The Apple Pencil feels amazing in the hand and is a simple and elegant way to take hand written notes or create a simple sketch. Heck, I even find it to be a superior way to capture low word count creative content. But we are coming up on the 1-year anniversary of the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil and I see no reason why Apple won't bring Apple Pencil to other Apple devices. I think the iPhone 7 Plus is an excellent candidate for Apple Pencil compatibility. There is no doubt that there is extra cost and complexity involved with adding the necessary sensors to the screen to enable the Apple Pencil to work, which is why I don't think we will immediately see this brought to all iPhone models. iPhone is still a significant source of profit for Apple, so they have to be careful about their profit margins across the line of devices. But I can see Apple adding this key feature to their flagship model...the iPhone 7 Plus. Apple Pencil also doesn't make as much sense on a smaller device like the standard sized iPhone and the even smaller SE.

I was in a meeting this past Friday at work. I didn't have to take a ton of notes, but information was flying quickly and pieces of information were being changed back and forth along the way. I can't type all that quickly on my iPhone so my only option at the time was to open up my laptop and type my notes. If I would have had an Apple Pencil enabled iPhone this would have been the perfect application for this type of "quick jot" note taking. The iPhone Plus model phones are very similar in size to a reporters notebook (field notes) in so I think it is only a matter of time before this happens. I just hope that time is upon us this week...

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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