Convert Handwritten Text Into Digital on iPad

I have a tendency to brainstorm and take notes with pen and paper because it is much faster and can be done anywhere, I have load of such notes that I have carried across the world and back several times, some of which are getting hard to read because of the light colored ink used to make them.

For making new hand written notes I want to ask the end-users on this forum of any macOS solutions that would be good for me to use for taking hand notes on a iPad (as yet to buy) and then convert those to text notes for import to my MBP?

And is there a way of taking notes written on paper scanning them in and converting them to text?

I use Notability and it can do this. I only use it occasionally but it’s a good app

After spending the last 6-7 hours researching this it seems that all the handwriting to text software out there (including Notability) licensed the engine from MyScript the makers of Nebo. So I figured that Nebo must be doing something right.

For demos of what Nebo can do watch these short videos.

The cost of the software is cheap < US$10 your main expense will be in the tablet.

Nebo website

Nebo is multi-platform where as others seem to limited to the Apple universe. All the Nebo spin offs are also very inexpensive and add some value added feature to distinguish them from each other. At those prices you can buy others and play around with them till you find one that suites your workflow.

So now I finally found a reason to get an iPad 8)

Yeah, I was going to sit down and compose a long answer to this when I got a break, but you beat me to it. :smiley:

I’ve tried various paper-handwriting-scan-to-text apps on iOS, but none of them is worth much, bluntly. You’d be ahead on time just typing them in, unless you’re looking for just a way to search them.

My solution for this is an Evernote premium subscription, which can index scanned handwritten notes. There are some caveats, though.

First, those faded paper notes won’t index well. I find that a good strong black or blue-black ink (or black marker for whiteboard photos) works best.

Second, if your paper is ruled in blue, you won’t get good indexing, either. I use either unruled paper or paper with very faint grey rules.

Finally, if you’d like to handwrite directly into iOS Scrivener, salvation is on the way! Apple Scribble, which as I understand it is like the soft onscreen keyboard, but for handwriting, will be available with iPadOS 14. Here’s an advance report from users who have dared to install the iOS 14 beta:

Yes, I thought Nebo was going to be wonderful until I tried it. I probably used it half a dozen times, then it completely disappeared from my workflow. At the moment, I would say that nothing beats typing – even my typing. But Silverdragon is the expert on this. Heed what she says.

I tried Nebo, but didn’t like it. Transforming handwritten text to typed text isn’t very important to me. I seldom use that function. But being able to scribble, draw, make handwritten notes, etc, that’s something I do all the time. There are lots of apps that can do this and it’s like Orpheus says:

So that’s what I did, and the only one remaining is Notability. Plus Cardflow+ for storyboard kind of sketching, and Paper for drawing.
There are lots of apps, and you need to find the ones that you really like and keep using.

I’ve lost count of the number of apps I have paid money for, and stopped using after maybe a month when they have turned out not to suit me or what I was doing. I regard it as a kind of tax on my (initial) enthusiasm. I have grown more wary, particularly of the opinions expressed by others, because I have (almost) learned that what works for someone else may be completely wrong for me.

In contrast, that is something I almost never do. Except rarely on a piece of paper. We are all different!

I have stopped using paper, almost completely. :smiley:
I get pdf:s, word files, email, etc, which need to be read and often annotated. So I send them along to Notability where I read and annotate using my iPadPro and 2nd generation Apple pencil. When I am done I can send it back to whoever needed or wanted my comments.

No more papers cluttering up my desk! :smiley:

Fortunately, nobody wants to know what I think :smiley:

If it’s for quick note taking with Apple Pencil on iPad, and then a fairly accurate handwriting to digital text translation, I’ve found Nebo a marvel.
I ‘grew up’ on text recognition software from 25 years ago and they were pretty bad…I can’t believe how good Nebo is today.

There ARE other note taking apps that offer more features, but my main requirement was to quickly capture some notes when I’m out and about, and not have to re-type everything when I got back in…my search was not extensive but I didn’t find anything with better text recognition than Nebo.
You can export to text/pdf/.docs/html - I’ve found you can export and copy .docx straight to Scrivener, which saves me so much time :slight_smile:

I’ve recently also used it for note taking on a course I was doing …I then found that its ‘draft’ feature, that allows you to open up an area on your page and do free-hand drawing, was very useful. You can also include diagrams and images.

Has to be best £10 I’ve ever spent.

Nebo + Apple Pencil means I actually use my iPad a lot more than I was doing a year ago.

Hope you find what you’re looking for.

For me, nothing jump-starts my creativity like sitting down and handwriting something. It helps me get started again on a project where I’ve gone stale. Mind you, I don’t keep on handwriting. It is v. slow compared to typing and once I’m rolling I dig out my keyboard. But then comes the inevitable day when my typing brain has nothing to say, and it’s back to paper, whiteboard, or some iOS app. And in the planning (or re-planning!) stage I find handwriting essential.

As you say, @orpheus, almost all the note taking apps that do handwriting to text conversion use the MyScript engine. As an app developer, though, I don’t trust them. MyScript make their money from engine licence fees. Apps by MyScript are loss leaders designed to showcase their engine – there have been several that just disappeared from the app store with no warning. So I don’t trust that Nebo is around for the long haul – certainly not enough to make it part of my workflow.

I addressed the paper to text workflow, but like Lunk I mostly avoid paper these days. As Evernote is my go-to research and planning app/service, I need a note taking app that will work closely with it while I’m outlining. My choice is Noteshelf, which will happily publish my notes to Evernote as images for indexing automatically. If later I find that the text needs to be part of the narrative, it also has the MyScript engine available for conversion, so I’m not locked in. Other worthy handwriting note apps that don’t work as closely with Evernote are Notability, Goodnotes, and Notes Plus – any of them is a decent choice depending on which suits your workflow better. I don’t recommend Penultimate despite the fact that Evernote publish it – Noteshelf’s Evernote integration is better!

Now if you want to handwrite directly into iOS Scrivener, using a soft keyboard like Apple Scribble is possible today, but the choices aren’t great, especially if you don’t write in English. I use Writepad 1 (the iPhone version is called Penquills), which has terrible reviews in the app store. :smiley: The problem is that it doesn’t recognise well “out of the box.” You’ll need to select the letter forms you use in advance. Once you do that one time chore, its recognition improves remarkably, and editing as opposed to text entry is better than the MyScript keyboard engine.

Mazec uses the MyScript keyboard engine but I find it a pain to use. Ditto Selvy PenScript. Of the 2, I prefer Selvy.

Why bother when Apple are producing their own version? First, you can be handwriting in iOS Scrivener now. :smiley: Second, these will work on iPhone as well – Apple Scribble is only slated for iPad, I believe.

Some final thoughts on machine handwriting recognition:

  • If the word you want isn’t in the dictionary, use block letters, not cursive. You may have to give up and bring up a typing keyboard if using a soft keyboard. If doing batch recognition, you’ll likely need to edit such words after conversion.
  • Avoid letter slant. Turn your device if you have to.
  • Any stylus is better than your finger. (I’ve never actually used an Apple Pencil. I may need to give in and buy one when Scribble arrives.)

Happy handwriting!

P.S. I don’t worry about the cost of apps. Before The Pandemic, I spent more on a single writing session at a coffeehouse than on the typical app. I only start counting costs when considering subscriptions.