3 iOS Apps To Write About (or With)

| Free on iTunes

Back in the day I had a Newton (briefly) and several devices from now-defunct Palm. Back then fingers just got in the way in inputting text. We used a stylus and one of the many variations of handwriting recognition software to enter data.

Apple had the most advanced software on the Newton. I am still impressed with its ability to convert my chicken scratch into reasonably coherent compositions.

Palm had Jot, which required you to learn a simple glyph-based alphabet, which was then converted into text. It was a workable system and many people felt fairly comfortable writing in Jot. It wasn’t anything you wanted to write a book with, but for quick notes, email, and the like, Jot was just fine.

Now that Palm has been bought by HP, Jot (or a derivative technology) could well appear in HP’s forthcoming iPad rival, the HP Touchpad, and when it does it will be one more feature that the “other guys” offer that Apple does not, but could easily beat, if only it wanted to.

Apparently Apple couldn’t care less about handwriting recognition, it took the technology from the Newton, packaged it into a product called Inkwell, and summarily ignored it even when its mobile technology seemed to be ripe for it.

True enough, no one is clamoring to have their scrawls converted to readable text on their iPads or iPhones, but I believe it’s a technology that would be a hit if only Apple would at least make it available as a service to developers that want to use it.

Are there developers that might use Inkwell technology? Absolutely!

Take Bamboo Paper for instance. A really interesting app from Wacom that does a great job in recording your finger scratches. Basically, it’s a virtual notebook that lets you save your handwriting and drawn notes.

Bamboo Paper

You can choose pen color and the thickness of the line, the style of paper (lined, graph, or plain), and share your scribblings with the rest of the world via email.

Bamboo Paper

Wacom is currently giving away Bamboo Paper, implying that it might charge for it later. That’s likely a mistake since there are many other more capable app available. Check it out anyway, even if you’re not sure you want to use it.

Another app that would benefit from Inkwell technology is Note Taker Lite.

Note Taker Lite

Try as I might, my finger, as a writing tool, sucks, and my handwriting on my iPhone often looks like it did back in early grade school when I was just learning how to make my mark. My words are illformed and seldom line up even on ruled virtual paper. Note Taker Lite tries to remedy this.

Here we have an app that isn’t satisfied to let you scratch randomly all over the virtual page, it has an ingenious system that lets you write in a larger space, then converts your lines, swirls, and dots to smaller versions that are lined up nicely. You can easily dismiss the system if you want to scrawl or draw, and you can start your ordered writing anywhere on the page. Very nice!

I strongly recommend you go through the tutorial to understand the simple controls before you dive in and start using the app. It’ll help immensely and will make a difference in how well the app works for you.

Note Taker Lite

Definitely check out Note Taker Lite. As you might imagine, there is a non-Lite version that offers many other useful features, none of which automagically converts your writing into type, unfortunately.

If you like Note Taker Lite then you might also like Neu. Notes. It has a similar ability to line up your writing using a larger area for you to scratch in. It also offers various ink colors and line widths, and the ability to zoom in so you can draw in detail.

Neu. Notes

Neu. Notes supports the hardware Screen Mirror feature on iPad 2, so you can show everyone what you’re writing. Presumably, it will support wireless mirroring when it becomes available in iOS 5.

Other great components include the ability to put photos in your writing, and you can write over anything on the screen.

Neu. Notes

There are more features available in the free version of this very cool app, but even more are offered in the paid version. Neu. Notes is a definite keeper.

As if wrangling finger writing into something useful isn’t enough, all these apps works even better with a stylus. Now, if only Apple would give up Inkwell…

That’s a wrap for this week.

For those of you in the Good Ol’ U. S. of A., have a safe and Happy 4th of July. The rest of you, have a great weekend as well.

More free note taking apps below with direct links.




Very nice picks this week. It reminded me how my mum, on hearing my interest in the Newton, gave me one as a gift, just weeks before it was knifed. I don’t think I have ever felt more badly about receiving a gift.

As for handwriting recognition, there was a time that I wanted to write free hand because I was faster at it than I was with typing. Now, it is just the opposite, and I cannot remember the last time I tried to compose (not just fill out a form) on paper in longhand. Undoubtedly, there are tasks that are better done, like the examples you show above, where chicken scratch rules.

I am curious enough that I’ll have to give these whirl.


Do apps have to be free to qualify for your review?

PhatPad, with a 4+ review rating, does handwriting recognition very well, but it’s not free.

Dorje Sylas

I tried to use Inkwell back in college with a USB Wacom tablet but it was often to slow and frustrating to keep pace with lectures. What is funny/sad is I was using a PowerBook G4 that was virtual on par with current iPad 2s (1.33 G4).

The problem I see with using handwriting recognition software on the iPad is the capacitive touch screen and the recognition size. It just fine enough outside certain specialty (creatively) built pens. The other problem is the impact laying your arm on screen has. Some programs like UPAD and NoteTaker HD implement “writing shields” which reduce the issue somewhat, but not totally.

Also like my problems with Inkwell latency in recognition could be down right deadly to the task. Another issue is transition from writing mode to drawing mode. I often found myself caught between needing to “handwrite” and draw a figure or set of equations. Part of the reason for the Wacom was to deal with diagrams in math and science courses.

Those issue and more are likely why we haven’t seen a serious commitment by Apple to get Inkwell into iOS or see it developed further in OSX. 

WritePad looks interesting as does the more notey PhatPad, thank you Rick I shall have to look at them. Can you insert existing PDFs as the background to PhatPad? I’m constantly looking possible and better paper replacements at the K-12 level. UPAD (easier) and NoteTaker HD (more robust) are my current picks with fine. What is most interesting is the post writing conversion. That I think more then Inkwell or “as you write” conversion is the ticket to successful handwriting input on the iPad. It solves the issue of laggy conversion and having to switch between drawing and writing quickly. It would be interesting to see it also cupeled to a math notion engine like an Equation writer to convert hand written math equations into text. Get a good system for that and I think you sell several million more iPads to science students alone.


I agree with @Dorje Sylas The whole reason why I wanted a good note taking app was for College Algebra. I tend to try to put things into perspective and what I have figured out is that I have to use technology for what I can but I never stop relying on the basics. In other words, I didn’t look for the iPad to replace my physical notepad and pen but with the algebra, which I am horrible at, I had to take 3 levels of algebra starting at the beginning algebra and on top of that I have 2 different Tudors that I meet with throughout the week. This has caused a pile up of about 4 notebooks packed with notes and diagrams with many principles repeated among the notebooks. I am constantly shuffling through pages trying to find what I need at any particular moment in class. I wanted an app that would give thumbnail access to my notes and one that I could really write out formulas and numbers. I have paid for several note apps and actually found that Bamboo Paper does a great job because it has a pinch and zoom feature and is actually really good at allowing your palm to rest on the screen, you do get a few blemishes from your palm but they are easily erased when you are finished. It doesn’t allow for multiple notebooks, that I can see anyway. Between the pinch and zoom and two finger scrolling plus a long touch on the screen brings up a palette for ink color and sizing I am not fumbling with a bunch of buttons to get to options. Chicken scratch is one thing, but when you have a professor who writes fast on the board then you need an app that can keep up. Bamboo Paper is very plain but it gets the job done. Even with Bamboo Paper or any other note taking app I am constantly left wondering if any developer have tested these apps before they stick them in the app store. So open invitation to any developer. Let me test your app for a week and I will tell you if it can truly be considered a note taking app.


Penultimate is also a good note taking app but it does not have handwriting recognition. It can export your handwritten notes as PDF docs and you can also choose the paper style or create one to write on.

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