Miss Newton MessagePad? MyScript Stylus takes iPad Pro back to 1993

MyScript Stylus is a free handwriting recognition app for the iPad Pro.

The app is a keyboard extension. It replaces the normal on-screen qwerty keyboard with a space where you can write.

While the app will work if you write with your finger or any kind of stylus, you’ll get the best results if you spend NZ$189 on the Apple Pencil.

Clever

As handwriting recognition apps go, MyScript Stylus is clever, even impressive. As you fill up the line across the screen the writable area scrolls left. When you pause the whole screen shifts left giving you more writing room.

Handwriting is automatically converted to text. The app inserts into the open iOS app. It works well with apps like Mail and even Twitter, but it comes into its own when you use a text editor, iOS Notes or an iPad writing app.

MyScript Stylus stores the handwriting ink that has scrolled off the screen. This means you can use two fingers to scroll back to edit earlier mistakes. It has a number of gestures to insert, delete and otherwise edit text.

Even scruffy handwriting

The handwriting recognition is good. Far better than the first generation Apple Newton MessagePad. Both devices coped well with my scruffy handwriting. There are errors, but with practice you can tear through words at a typewriter-like pace.

If you prefer handwriting to typing this could be the right app for you. Likewise if you’re comfortable with the Apple Pencil for sketching on an iPad Pro screen, this would feel almost as natural as writing on paper.

Flaw

There is a flaw. The screen zone at the bottom of the writing area is used for some commands — there’s a delete button among others. I found I would often hit these buttons with my fingers by mistake when writing. With time you can develop a technique to avoid this.

While there’s something satisfying and elegant about MyScript Stylus, it’s hardly a breakthrough. Windows tablets have had similar handwriting recognition software since the early 1990s.

So did Apple. In 1993 the original Apple Newton MessagePad debuted with a stylus and erratic handwriting recognition. That was 23 years ago.

Moreover, the Windows and Apple Newton handwriting recognition are built-in at a low level. Going instead to a third-party software company for a free app seems an odd move.

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