MacMost Now 277: Using a Tablet to Write Text

With the Ink feature of Mac OS X you can use a cheap tablet and your Mac will recognize the letters you write as an alternative to using a keyboard. You can insert text and drawings into documents.

Video Transcript
Hi this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now. Did you know that you can use the tablet and write rather than type on the keyboard?
Recently a lot of bloggers have been talking about the possibility that Apple's going to come out with some sort of tablet computer. And they have also mentioned that if they do, they'll have to have some way for you to be able to write, and it recognize the letters that you write. Well a lot of people don't know this, but Mac OS X already does that. You get you a cheap little tablet like this. I bought this for $25 on sale. You can get similar ones for between 40 and 60 bucks online. And you can write and have your Mac recognize the letters you write. It's already built in. It's Mac OS X. Let's go and take a look.
So here's the system preferences. Now right away your gonna notice one thing. There's this ink preference right here. Now if you go and look for that in your Mac, you find it. Well it's there. But it only appears when you plug a tablet into your Mac.
So which tablets work? Well it has to be a Mac compatible tablet. Now as far as I know they all are, but it is possible that there's some out there that don't work with Mac at all. But most use a plug and a player and they work. Others you have to install drivers to get them to work, or you have to get additional functions. But with this cheap little tablet I've got I simply went ahead and plugged it in, and instantly i was able to use it using with this ink preference panel.
Let's take a closer look at that. So when you click on Ink you'll see a whole set of preferences here. The first one is able to turn on handwriting recognition, then most of this other stuff will work. You can set things about your handwriting. How you want to use it. For instance if you pen has a button on it, that it will only recognize your writing when you have one of the buttons pressed. You can go ahead and have Ink window shown. Which is this thing here. And usually it appears in the bottom right part of the screen, in which you can move it anywhere you want. And you can also show the ink menu bar. Then you've got a couple of things here. You can se the language for recognizing characters. There's also some gestures. For instance you can undo using this gesture here. Cut copy paste clear tab etc. You also have a word list. You could add some common words, like say your name and your company and some things like that, for it to better recognize those words when you write them.
Let's go and take a look at how it works now. So one of the things you can do with this window is click on the little note pad here, and then you have this area which you can start writing in. So i'm gonna start writing and i'm going to make sure i keep the cursor here over the note pad. And start writing text. When I'm done, it will translate it and put the word up there. Now you can also toggle down here to picture mode, and then you can draw on this space as well.
So you'll notice something here inside preferences I've checked off a lot of the ink in any application. So I can switch to something like text edit. So I'm gonna write in very large letters and you'll see this little temporary tab will open up. And there you go. Now in this mode i've definitely noticed exactly what we see here. It doesn't do a very good job. In this case I put a space between every letter, and it thought my two L's were I's. Let's give it another try. There it did a much better job this time.
Now you can also Ink to go ahead and put drawings into documents that except drawings. So let me convert this text edit document to rich text here so I can insert images in it. Then in Ink I've got my picture here that I'm drawing, and I'm gonna go ahead and hit send. You can see it inserts it there in text edit. And it will work for lots of different applications, as long as they except the sent image. You can do the same thing with text here. You can go ahead and basically send this text to the current document you have open. So I click here, hit send, and it will send the text into here. So I find it's a lot easier to write and have your text recognized in this Ink note pad here, than it is a regular document. So you could write here, hit send and transfer the text over. So if you want to know more about Ink, there's help button here that only appears in this Ink panel. You may have to expand the window a little bit to get to it. Click on it, and the ink help will open up. And you can find out all sorts of information and things you can do with it.
So Ink's fun to use but I'm not sure how practical it is. I found it really rarely recognized my handwriting well enough to allow me to have that as a substitute to the keyboard. But it does show that this technology already exists in Mac OS X. So it will probably used in any kind of tablet that Apple comes out with, but hopefully it will be a little bit improved by then. Until then it's really a toy you can play with try it out if you have a tablet. And see if you find it useful. Until next time this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 19 Responses to “MacMost Now 277: Using a Tablet to Write Text”

    8/10/09 @ 2:19 pm

    Which tablet did you go with? Im wanting to use one as a digital whiteboard for some training online and didnt really realize that Apple has this built in.

    Great podcast.


    1/26/10 @ 7:39 pm

    Can’t you use your Iphone as a tablet, since it has a touchscreen?
    Are there any (free) apps that allows me to us emy Iphone as a wireless tablet that helps me writing on my macbook?
    I’m not talking about remote control, just about using it to make docs on my macbook, without typing on my keyboard.



      1/26/10 @ 7:45 pm

      Not sure why you would want to do that. It would be far faster to type on a real keyboard.

    1/26/10 @ 8:08 pm

    Well Gary,

    I’m lazy and prefer not to sit in front of my laptop and type, but lay down with my Iphone in my hands.
    More importantly:
    I want to use it for brainstorming. as if I would do on paper. Typing gets me out of my thinking. handwriting is much easier in this process.
    I found two possible programs: Finger (for Chinese characters, and I’m not Chinese) and Writepad (but this one doesn’t connect to the desktop at the same moment.

    Maybe it will generate more possible solutions if I wouldn’t say I need a writing app but a drawing app, that remotely controls the pen in whatever program: paint, drawer, …

    so, any ideas?


    1/26/10 @ 8:49 pm

    thx, I will. Remote buddy doesn’t do the proper job.

    6/12/10 @ 10:17 pm

    How did you make the video? Showing your desktop and a video of you talking?

      6/12/10 @ 10:41 pm

      I use Wirecast. But its little brother Screenflow will probably do what you need.

    6/12/10 @ 11:04 pm

    Hi Gary, I do have one more question. I haven’t been able to find the answer and I hope you can help me. I purchased the Bamboo Pen tablet but I can’t seem to draw while I use Keynote. I want to be able to draw while I do a presentation. Is this possible?

      6/12/10 @ 11:09 pm

      Forgot to mention, the OS I’m using is 10.6 (MacBook Pro)

        6/13/10 @ 8:39 am

        There’s no drawing function like that in keynote. It doesn’t matter if you use a mouse or tablet. You’d have to switch to a drawing application to draw, and then back to keynote when done.

    7/23/10 @ 8:02 pm

    hi gary,
    I am from sg.recently brought a havon graphic tablet could it write chinese character on mac 10.6.Pls. advice.
    many thanks!

      7/23/10 @ 8:20 pm

      I don’t know. You may want to look at the web site or documentation for the tablet.

    3/29/11 @ 9:26 am

    What is the name of the tablet (write to text) on MacMost Now 277? Is it a walkin or wakin (not sure of spelling)? Will it work with Mac OS X? Thanks.

      3/29/11 @ 9:41 am

      Its a cheap DigiPro 5.5×4″ USB Graphics Tablet. Not sure if you can find it anymore. But there are many cheap little tablets around. Just search Amazon. Most (all?) work with Macs. I think you are asking about “Wacom”? They are the biggest brand name in the market.

    5/7/11 @ 2:00 pm

    Hello Gary,
    I would like to build a business website that has an interactive whiteboard. I would use this with my students when we are not in the same place. We could both go online and use the whiteboard to solve problems, make a graphic drawing together, etc. Is it possible to do that with the tablet setup you are describing?

      5/7/11 @ 2:52 pm

      That’s something completely different. The tablet would only assist in the drawing. But the bigger problem is having a whiteboard space shared over the Internet. Lots of companies offer this, but it is outside of my area so I have no recommendations.

    12/18/11 @ 9:15 pm

    Can it recognize how to read even hard to read writings?
    The model you mention seems to be hard to find here in NZ anyway, any other one to recommend?
    Then I presume I can file my notes in either clarissworks (yes I still have that) or words, any version or pages? Thanks. Corinne

    12/18/11 @ 9:31 pm

    This video is more than 2 years old, so that exact model may have been replaced with a newer one. I don’t regularly use tablets, so I don’t have any recommendations.

Comments Closed.