Friday, March 5, 2010

Google Reinvents Graffiti

Google has added a new feature to Android which looks a lot like an old feature from another mobile OS. Palm's old PalmOS PDAs had stylus-based input system called "Graffiti" where you would enter characters based on set of predefined pen strokes. It worked very well for years until the emergence of smartphones required Palm and Handspring to adopt keyboards for their devices. Add a long lawsuit by Xerox and Graffiti disappeared into the mists of gadget history.

Sort of. The idea of Graffiti remains popular enough that there is even a version available for iPhones. So it was probably only a matter of time before someone tried to bring it to Google's Android OS. That someone turned out to be Google itself which recently released a Gesture Search application which allows you to run searches by simply drawing letters. This is essentially what you did with the old PalmOS Graffiti.

But Gesture Search is a single standalone application while Graffiti was an essential part of the PalmOS and could be used with every PalmOS application. In fact even after Palm abandoned having a dedicated Graffiti input area for its Treo phones, it was still possible to install an app which would allow you to enter Graffiti strokes directly on the phone's screen.

That has gotten me to think about webOS on my Palm Pre. While there is a virtual keyboard available for webOS, there is nothing like Graffiti or even Gesture Search available for webOS. And that's disappointing because after all, Palm was the company which made this sort of input work in the first place.

And I think that Palm is uniquely suited to make it work again. Palm already has the code to Graffiti and Graffiti II—the successor to Graffiti which Palm introduced in part because of the Xerox lawsuit. And Palm has a its dashboard notification system which would be a convenient place to keep the controls for a Graffiti-style input system. So there really is no reason why Palm couldn't create another version of Graffiti and have it work on the entire operating system.

I used Graffiti for years on Palm PDAs. And I've used smartphone keyboards for years. But I was never really able to get used to using virtual keyboards which is one reason why I never got an iPhone. Now if I could have Palm's old Graffiti writing system back and have it live in my Palm Pre's dashboard, that would be a great alternative to sliding open my Pre when I only have to enter one or two characters.

Official Google Mobile Blog: Search your Android phone with written gestures

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