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WritePad, automatic text recognition on the iPad?

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/

1. I love having my notes transcribed, better than my terrible handwriting
2. Excellent sync options, although you can either sync to Evernote OR sync to Dropbox; not both at the same time
3. The are lots of options for customization, it would take a 2000 word review to cover all of the options this app provides

1. A real long learning curve!
2. The process to correct words with the alternatives window is difficult and requires several clicks. Editing may be best left for another application like Evernote.
3. Takes a real skill with your fingers and your stylus to be efficient with this app. I found that it took a combination of writing smoothly and navigating with my fingers to get the words down
4. The recognition and the function layout is just not efficient enough to take lots of notes in meetings, classes or any other function requiring a lot of writing.


I originally wrote this review over a year ago back in August 2011. I thought it was time to take a look again to see if the technology and the app had evolved in the last 12 months. Actually, the real motivation for taking another look came from a question I received from a reader of my iPad Productivity eBook. The reader was interested in knowing if there were any apps out there that run text recognition on hand-written text. Great question, especially for those of you who like to write. So, with it is with this motivation I update this post with some additional thoughts.

The orignal idea for doing this review was to use Writepad at a three day confence. To that end I figured that I should become really familiar with WritePad before attempting to spend an entire day and over 4 hours of sessions trying to keep up with what the presenters were saying. So, I eschewed my presentation practice time (I co-presented a session on Project Management) to familiarize myself with the app and it’s idiosyncrasies. I had hoped this process would not take too much time; maybe 15/20 minutes max…unfortunately I was wrong.

Let me start by saying that it took me a long time to get used to this application. I spent over and hour simply typing on the app and reading the instructions. Maybe I am a bit slow, or maybe my writing is terrible; I just think it should take a little less time to get used to being efficient in an application.20110817-062903.jpg Here is a picture of a few of my initial attempts to write on this app (not pretty!). You can see that I was working in the writing window which is a lot faster than writing in full screen mode, but the recognition after much practicing leaves a lot to be desired!

To be fair, handwriting recognition is not easy…think of coding an application that must distinguish letters from numbers from punctuation from cursive to individual letters. The thought of coding something that is fast enough to work on an iPad and usable enough for someone to be efficient is mind boggling. Given this, I wanted to give the app enough time to learn my writing style. In my former job I was in charge of a radiology department that switched to voice recognition several years back for our Radiologists. Given this experience I was very familiar with how important it is to let an application learn a particular users voice style. Hand writing recognition is no different and WritePad accomplishes this learning when a user corrects words using WritePad’s suggestion list, see picture above. Every time a user fixes a word by replacing it with an alternative the app learns a bit more. So, given this knowledge I continued to practice for a full hour so that the app had enough time to “learn” how I write. Unfortunately this hour was not nearly enough which I learned the hard way during my day-long test.

I attended three different sessions with WritePad and I can honestly say I spend more time staring at the screen than focusing on the speaker. It got to the point where I simply listened and then summarized the session later after the speaker finished. My attention would have been better if the app could hide the recognized text so that I could simply focus on writing with the recognition happening behind the scenes. In fact this is the exact functionality that voice recognition systems can do for Radiologists so that the doc is not distracted by the recognized words appearing (or not appearing) on the screen and can therefore focus on the images to interpret before before them.

Like I did in my review for NotetakerHD, I took some time to review some of the more popular review sites out there; links provided below. Both of these reviews were quite positive so I started to feel a bit frustrated at being so negative. So, airport beer in hand I took a bit more time with the app to try out the full screen mode of recognition as well as the text shorthand features. 20110817-062234.jpg Well, my review did not change and of course it dawned on my that the two reviews below were written by people who definitely did not attempt to use the app in the wild. But, reading their reviews convinced me that there is definitely a market for reviews based on real world app testing over at least a day or more of use rather than 30 to 60 minutes of playing. As mentioned above, the true test of an app is whether it saves you time later specifically in saving and organizing information. What’s the point of using an app if it takes your focus away from what is truly important, i.e. the person in front of you or the person speaking in front of your class! So, after much time, effort and deliberation I can say with a clean conscience that WritePad is not the app for you if you hope to take lots of notes in a professional or academic setting. Maybe this app will work for you if you have developed some elaborate abbreviation system that can be imported into Writepad’s Shorthand System. But, I suspect that many of you do not and with this I would say to stick with some other note taking app.

What about my experiences 12 months later in 2012? Again, with a clean conscience I can still say that Writepad does not work for my writing style. Some hardcore users of Writepad have said that it takes up to a week to get Writepad to work with a user’s writing style. But, who has a week to teach an app to work for you? I certainly don’t; when I buy an app I expect it to work for me with minimal setup and training. I guess the setup for Evernote as a productivity system is an exception for me given that it took reading Daniel’s Evernote eBook, The Secret Weapon Evernote Task Manager eBook and lots of trial and error. But, through my Evernote journey I was constantly making progress towards my goal of a better productivity system. Unfortunately I just have not seen improvement each time I have dug deep with Writepad…there is no incremental progress, no light at the end of the tunnel. Writepad will not improve your productivity on the iPad if you write like most people in the word.

Now the good news, there are apps out there that recognize text accurately and therefore improve your productivity. One such app is MyScript Memo, and its free! Before you download it know that the app locks you in portrait mode and does not have zoomed writing…just a blank screen with lines. But, give it a try…you might be surprised. My next post on Wednesday will be an in depth review, so stay tuned!

Anyone out their with a difference experience with WritePad?

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About the author

    Chris Lee

    I am a healthcare administrator interested in being productive. I believe that the combination of a tablet (iPad Air 32GB) and a smartphone (iPhone 5 in my case) can drastically improve how we do work without adding too much complexity. The “how” of accomplishing this productivity is the focus of this blog. Here are just a few of the topics I hope to cover. Even though I use iOS devices currently I am in no way totally tied to Apple. I have used a Surface 2 for an extended time and am currently considering replacing my HP laptop with a Surface at some point, so keep reading to find out when this happens. Heck, I may even write a post some day on getting efficient with a Kindle Fire HD given that my daughter just got one for her birthday awhile back.


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