Cupertino (CA) - A new Apple rumor is making the rounds on the Internet: The company could be working on the rebirth of the Newton handheld, possibly in the shape of an ultra mobile PC. Why? Handwriting recognition capabilities for the simple Chinese character set have been discovered within the iPhone 2.0 SDK firmware files. Handwriting recognition may be a generally nice feature for the iPhone, but the idea of a new Newton is certainly worth talking about.
It seems that Apple’s upcoming iPhone 2.0 software update will spoil the party for Chinese developer Hanwang Technology, which still hopes to be be able to offer the first handwriting recognition software for the iPhone. The company planned to offer the software for free to home users, while charging for corporate use. Now the company could be forced to rethink its strategy as the latest iPhone firmware files include a handwriting recognition interface for the Chinese character set.
Hanwang’s software, dubbed HWPen, allows users to enter Chinese and Latin characters by drawing a character shape on the iPhone screen.
The latest SDK discovery is attributed to Chinese user Kenneth who reported that the SDK build 5A258f now includes several new Chinese input methods as part of the international keyboard settings, including handwriting recognition. Kenneth claimed that "handwriting recognition is only available in Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) and doesn’t support English."
Apparently, the software shows a remarkable similarity to Hanwang’s HWPen, even in terms of the application user interface and screen sections. The functionality is the same: A user simply draws a character symbol on the screen and the software shows close matches in a column to the right. Screenshots published by Kenneth suggest that the handwriting recognition functionality can be used in portrait and landscape modes (HWPen does not support landscape mode).
Besides Chinese, there is also support for the Japanese character set. At this time, there is no support for Latin characters, but this certainly does not necessarily mean that Apple is not working on bringing handwriting recognition support to other languages.
The benefits of handwriting recognition on the iPhone are obvious anyway. Those with fingers too large to for the iPhone’s virtual keyboard have been waiting for this feature for some time. But it is even more important to people using non-Latin character sets, such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese etc. Such languages use many character symbols that are difficult to depict and type on a virtual keyboard. Chinese and Japanese are prime examples of such character sets so handwriting recognition could be a big time saver for these users.
Readers who have been around for a while may know that handwriting recognition isn’t new to Apple and has been offered with the UMPC-sized Newton PDA, which was launched in 1993. Although cherished by its owners, the device is remembered as one of Apple’s most visible flops - killed by the company in 1998.
The iPhone is a different and much more successful platform and Apple seems to ready again to explore handwriting technologies in small form factors again. The company even posted a job listing recently for a handwriting recognition engineer. The job posting disappeared under the radar of mainstream media which. But there are those who think this job posting and the handwriting recognition feature in the upcoming iPhone 2.0 software is just a warm up for the rebirth of Newton tablet.
It is speculation right now, but we have said earlier that such a move by Apple would make sense. In our opinion, an Apple UMPC or a low-cost notebook such as the EeePC are enticing products.