Handwriting recognition gets a second wind with Nebo

Handwriting is one of the most effective technologies, according to late innovation genius Mark Weiser. The Nebo handwriting recognition app for note-taking has proven him right. It is available in many languages and sports a near 100% recognition rate. In this post, Visionary Marketing fully demonstrates the capability of the app with a real-life example. Through an interview, we will also describe the vision of its CEO for the future of MyScript’s Nebo and handwriting in general. 

[*] Important notice: the following introduction was transcribed with Nebo and left as is. Wherever applicable, I have underlined recognition errors. for the sake of transparency, the original handwritten text is displayed below.

With Nebo, handwriting recognition gets a second digital wind

Nebo handwriting recognition
With Nebo, it is possible to write a post like this one and avoid having to retype it. To prove it, I wrote the introduction to this article (approx.450 words) with Nebo. Except for a few commas, the whole of my text has been recognised. And let’s admit it, the application should be praised for understanding what I find difficult to read myself! The whole transcript is available at vismktg.info/nebopiece

Nebo came into my digital life a year ago it has now become a staple of my everyday work. As a matter of fact, Brittany-based My_script’s app has filled a gap I had been bitching about for the past fifteen years.

I am a fervent proponent of longhand. Writing with a pen, and now a stylus is a pleasure I readily indulge in. Besides, it is now proven that, when taking notes, handwriting is superior to shorthand regarding memorisation.

Writing with a keyboard may be effective, but it’s not as relaxing as handwriting. Moreover, writing with a pen, I tend to concentrate better and ponder over each word. There are no technical interruptions while writing on paper or digital paper for that matter.

Longhand over shorthand

______Above all, longhand helps you better focus or the points you are making.

Handwriting is a better stimulus for the “little grey cells”

As Hercule Poirot would put it, handwriting is a better stimulus for the little grey cells” Handwriting recognition (it used to be called ICR for Intelligent Character Recognition, as opposed to OCR, Optical character Recognition) is also very beneficial to me. I tend to suffer from RSI (Repetitive Stress Injuries)_ when_________________________________________________________________
I _use my keyboard and mouse too often.

Around 2000, after 15 years of daily keyboard usage, my wrist ended up aching to the point that I couldn’t write anymore. With the help of a trackball, I managed to solve my problem.

Voice recognition also helped me get rid of this issue.
The only is he is, one my text has been written, I then need to open my laptop and start all over again-or launch my voice recognition software and dictate my piece. later, I need to correct whatever recognition mistakes it has made.

______ ______ None of that was necessary at the turn of the century ______ ______ ______
when that pad was installed on my iPaq (Pocket Pe).
Unfortunately, Pocket Pes disappeared when the iPhone was released, in 2007, the iPhone didn’t have a stylus, and that feature purely and simply vanished, however much I doted on it.

With Nebo, it’s back to the future.

Not only does Nebo make all of this possible again, but it also uses a neural network to make its recognition even more accurate.
______I was immediately convinced by this new international application, and I contacted My_script’s CEO Pierre Laporte, to interview him and know more about it. Here is his interview and I hope that you will soon be part of the million users of Nebo.

[*] Notes on Nebo’s handwriting recognition mistakes

Nebo seemed to have a problem with Pocket PCs as well as Phatpad, but those were trademarks, and besides, they disappeared a long time ago. ”The only is he is, one…” should read “the only issue is, once…” Considering my awful and barely legible handwriting, Nebo did a pretty good job. Sometimes, it even managed to transcribe words that even I can’t decipher. It’s fair to say that eventually, Nebo is at least 99% right with this transcription.

I left the text as it was, highlighting all handwriting recognition errors in red, all of which are minor and seem primarily limited to punctuation, a tad hazy in my handwritten text.

Handwriting recognition is almost instantaneous with Nebo

It should be noted that the application did not need much more than one or two texts before showing a remarkable recognition rate, close to 100%. Now, almost all of my articles are written in this way or in a hybrid way because the new application allows it, as Pierre Laporte explains in this interview.

The application also allows you to publish the page in HTML format and make it available to other users. Here is the link that will give you access to the handwritten page directly and that will give you the possibility to operate the recognition engine yourself and retrieve a word file identical to what I have reproduced above: vismktg.info/nebopiece.

Pierre Laporte (Nebo): handwriting recognition gets a second wind

I joined Myscript in 2010, and I am its CEO. I have more than 30 years of experience in the high-tech software sector, electronic document management, business intelligence, machine translation and then handwriting recognition.

Regarding natural languages, our vision is firstly to focus on digitising content once entered in the form of ink, and the recognition of text, math or music. Secondly, we have been working for three or four years on putting handwriting at the centre of human-machine interfaces. Beyond recognition, it’s about working on editing gestures, on the “responsive” aspect of the human-machine interface. We have developed these technologies called Myscript Interactive Ink for the past three to four years, and they are now found in Nebo.

Contrary to popular belief, handwriting is not dead

On the contrary, it is going through a revival. It is a natural interface for the digital ecosystem which complements your keyboard or your favourite speech-to-text interface. It also makes it possible to cater for 2D such as anything that is written in mathematical form, for instance. Stuff which is hard to key in with a keyboard or with voice.

What used to be called intelligent character recognition is not new, however!

Indeed it’s not. Yet, we are no longer just working from images but from digital ink that you can capture through a digital stylus on a smartphone, a tablet or an interactive whiteboard.

If your writing, like mine, is awful, an image will not be much use for recognition. An X-Y coordinate will make it possible to understand what you meant to write, even if your handwriting is visually poorly formed. With this technology, we reach an impressive recognition rate today, over 90 per cent at least. Depending on the language, recognition rates will be anywhere between 95 and 100%.

How many Nebo users are there?

Since its launch, we have had more than 1 million downloads (note: as of June 2019), which is a relatively large number given that we require our users to own an active stylus. This is due to our desire to turn this application into a real productivity tool. For recognition to work well, the writing must be clean and neat, which is why we have been very selective in terms of the equipment supported by the application. We’re focusing on all iPads with an Apple Pencil, and despite all this, we still managed to attract over a million users.

It works with IOS, Android or Windows. In that category, you’ll find Microsoft’s Surfaces, which also have an active pencil attached. Apple, today, has the predominance in terms of productivity applications. Far behind, we have the Windows platform, which may one day become a serious contender, especially in the enterprise market. On the Android side, people are not used to spending money on applications, so it’s harder to get a foothold in that category.

What is the role of AI within the Nebo application?

All the technologies around neural networks are used massively by Nebo. We fuel our machine learning engines with data that we collect all over the world as the app is being used. This allows us to have neural networks that are extremely powerful and precise thanks to all the data we have gathered, and that will be able to adapt to everyone’s handwriting. We have a large number of samples in more than 70 languages, including Asian languages, which are widely used because Asians use note-taking a lot. Handwriting is very important in these countries, and their tongues are not easy to recognise accurately.

We also have technologies for adapting to the shape of the characters that we will gradually implement within Nebo and validate with users as we go along.

Technology isn’t everything, though. Making sure it is understood and accepted by end-users is even more critical. Our goal is not just to design handwriting recognition technology, but to meet users’ requirements and try to improve their productivity. Our team is constantly interviewing a panel of users to make sure that every new feature we put into Nebo brings added value.

What are the prospects for Nebo, and what are your major projects for the future?

In 2019 we introduced major versions in which we try and reduce the frustrations of our current users.

We have released a new version that allows the use of the keyboard in addition to writing. Many of our users were asking us to make it possible to correct text with a keyboard. With this new feature, one may type with a keypad within the handwritten text, rather than just in dedicated areas.

This multimodal aspect is quite impressive. You choose the input mode that interests you when it suits you best. When you’re on the move you can select handwriting, then you come back to the office, and you switch for the keyboard.

Multimodal entry enables users to choose their preferred input mode

Secondly, whereas we still force users to write on lines for recognition purposes, many of our users find it a bit frustrating when things go very fast in meetings, and you don’t always have the time to write on a straight line. We will, therefore, allow them to add free form writing areas to their texts, by the end of 2019.

You’ll be free to write as you wish and then take what you’ve written and bring it back into the text blocks to benefit from all the recognition and interactivity of Nebo.

Then there is a third feature planned for this year which is the sharing of a page in the cloud. So you share a page, and someone with a browser is going to be able to view it very simply.

It’s a way to open up all the content you create to your colleagues and other users.

In the coming years, we will gradually work on the productivity of a company, and no longer of an isolated individual, which will require collaboration between users and integration into the company’s information system.

It’s a never-ending subject. For example, we are considering adding to your notes the ability to enter an Excel-type table to allow you to make calculations.

We have also developed technologies to draw sketches or geometry figures. All this is being developed in our labs and will be delivered when our users express those needs.

All this is being developed in Brittany

Myscript is a 20-year-old startup based in Nantes. We are mainly internationally-oriented with large customers in Europe, Asia and the United States. We will stay in France, but we have Myscript representatives in various countries where we operate. And nothing prevents us from getting closer to innovation centres in the United States or elsewhere.

Yann Gourvennec
Follow me