Detailed on the Official Google Blog earlier this week, the search company has added a new feature for anyone using the Google search engine on a smartphone or tablet. Rather than attempting to type out a search term on a small smartphone keyboard, a Google user can now simply use their finger to write the search term on the touchscreen and it will appear in the search field. It recognizes both print and cursive writing, although cursive writing can be translated poorly if the user has poor handwriting. This feature is particularly handy for users that aren’t used to typing on a touchscreen keyboard or for people with larger fingers that often type multiple letters when attempting to correctly spell a word on a small touchscreen. It’s also helpful for anyone with a disability that doesn’t allow them to use an on-screen keyboard easily.
In order to turn on the new handwriting feature on a smartphone, load up the Google home page on any mobile browser. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and tap the “Settings” link. On the Settings page, tap on the enable option under the “Handwrite” setting, scroll to the bottom of the page and tap on the blue “Save” button. For a tablet, users will need to tap the gear icon to open up the settings screen.
Once the new feature has been activated, users can reload the Google home page and the Handwrite icon will be displayed at the bottom right corner of the screen. Tapping on the icon will turn the Handwrite feature on and off, thus allowing the user to scroll down the page if needed. The icon only appears on the home page, so users won’t have to worry about turning the feature off when a search results page is loaded.
Tied into the auto-complete feature of the search engine, letters that are being handwritten on the screen will start to appear within the search box. This is particularly helpful for loading the most common searches by writing the first few letters, thus allowing the user to tap the correct term when results are loaded underneath the search bar. Users also have the option of clicking the arrow icon to the right of the search results in order continue writing out a longer search query.
At the bottom of the screen, users will find a spacebar as well as a backspace key next to the Handwrite icon. Also found next to the spacebar in the form of a question mark, there’s a helpful walkthough on how to use the new Handwrite feature. The user isn’t limited to a specific space when writing out a search term and can easily write over the Google logo. Google software engineer Rui Ueyama also mentions that users can bring up the onscreen keyboard at any time by simply tapping on the search box. According to Ueyama, the new handwriting feature is designed to compliment the onscreen keyboard rather than completely replace it.
Google has enabled the new handwriting feature on” iOS5+ devices, Android 2.3+ phones and Android 4.0+ tablets” with support for 27 languages. Google hasn’t indicated if this feature will be headed to laptops or all-in-one desktops that also have a built-in touchscreen.