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Apple Acquires Handwriting Recognition Technology From Chinese Developer


Cupertino (CA) - Apple may not have developed the handwriting recognition feature for the upcoming iPhone 2.0 software in-house after all. Instead, it appears that the company has acquired this technology from a third-party Chinese developer.

As previously reported, the first software to offer a handwriting recognition feature for the iPhone came from Chinese developer Hanwang Technology. Hanwang’s HWPen application allows users to draw Chinese letter shapes on the handset screen and converts these drawings into actual character inserted into whatever text field a cursor is currently positioned.

Shortly after we had learned about this software, iPhone 2.0 firmware leaks suggested that the iPhone would get handwriting recognition as a system-wide feature. Published firmware screenshots showed remarkable similarity to Hanwang’s HWPen software. In a surprising twist, Hanwang now says that Apple has acquired its handwriting recognition code.

The company declined to provide further details, citing a non-disclosure agreement with Apple. According to iPhone Atlas, Hanwang is sending requests for removal of published screenshots to forums.

While it remains unclear if Apple has developed its own handwriting recognition feature and what prompted the company to acquire HWPen, there is an indication that at least some of HWPen’s components may end up in iPhone 2.0. Hanwang may have beaten Apple in its own game, coming up with the handwriting recognition feature for iPhone before Apple’s engineers. While we are speculating at this point, we believe that Apple may have come to the conclusion that a Chinese developer may be better suited to tackle specifics and fine intricacies of machine recognition of the complicated Chinese character set than Apple’s own engineers. The fact that Hanwang’s application is capable of recognizing letter shapes from the English alphabet could be viewed as a critical feature of the whole package.

However, the fact that Apple, which is well-known for rarely acquiring technologies from other companies, bought handwriting recognition from a Chinese developer speaks volume about its intention to expand its iPhone into Asia.

  • velocityg4
    I could see Apple doing this for Chinese character recognition possibly for other Asian writing systems too.

    As for the Latin alphabet I would think Apple would use their own handwriting recognition technologies such as that from the Newton and Ink in Mac OS X. I am assuming that the iPhone currently has no handwriting at all not just the Chinese alphabet. I never really used the iPhone much since the screen is too small rather I am hoping for something more the size of a real PDA.