Patent hints that the iPhone could one day have built-in handwriting recognition

It looks like it’s time for some new Apple patents. Just last week, we reported that Apple had filed patents indicating it might steal the Google Pixel 2’s squeeze features. Now, the company has filed another patent — this time for a handwriting recognition system that could be used in multiple languages and a range of different apps — and could one day make it into the iPhone.

There are already handwriting recognition apps for the iPad, but what’s notable about this particular patent is that it could be built straight into iOS, meaning that you could use handwriting recognition as part of the iOS keyboard in any app. In particular, it seems like the technology is targeted at users in Asian or Arab countries, where there are more characters in languages, something that may make typing uncomfortable or inefficient.

As the patent notes, while handwriting algorithms have been getting better, they still need some work. Particularly, there’s a lot of variability in different people’s handwriting styles, which can make it difficult for algorithms to properly detect what’s being written. On top of that, the patent application notes that many countries are multilingual — and as such, users may need to switch between languages often. For example, someone in China might need to write a movie title in English. Manually switching languages on a software keyboard can be difficult.

Apple’s system, however, could make handwriting recognition a little better. Apple describes training the system with writing samples, meaning that it could get better at detecting handwriting as time goes on. The same system is used for detecting handwriting in all languages, so if you switch between languages while you’re writing, it should be able to properly pick it up.

It would certainly be interesting to see a system like this launch on iOS. For starters, either the system would only be available on newer iPad models, or Apple would have to open up Apple Pencil support for the iPhone. The third option is that users would have to “handwrite” with their finger, though that could get a little frustrating and inefficient. It’s possible that Apple won’t ever use the patent at all — the company routinely files for patents that it doesn’t use. It’s important to note, however, that this patent is a continuation of patents that date back to 2013, so the company has clearly been thinking about the tech for some time.

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