What is it?
I don’t know if it is just me and my stubby fingers, but I find the ‘Lilliputian keyboards’ on mobile devices a cruel form of torture. Like many of you I probably spent well over a hundred dollars on handwriting apps and styli to find a more natural way to bend my mobile devices to my will. My handwriting is bad, doctor prescription pad bad. Eventually I gave up on this quest.
That is until I was consulting with my colleague Brian Lamb as I was choosing an app for this 12 apps project. He showed me a marvelous app called Myscript Mathpad which basically enables you to scribble out a math equation. It interprets your writing, runs it through a latex converter and generates a typeset math equation.
My first response was “hey is that ever cool”. My second was “what’s going on here, I can’t get ‘pick up bread’ accurately interpreted by any apps I’ve every tried, how does this thing untangled a scrawled differential calculus equation?” So I checked out this Myscript company. Their big innovation is an excellent handwriting/gesture/symbol recognition system.
As cool as the math thing is, what I want to profile here is Myscript Stylus which is much more fundamental for mobile users. It runs on both IOS and Android and provides an alternative for the regular keyboard on your mobile device. Myscript has several apps built on their recognition engine, but we’ll focus on Myscript Stylus here.
What can it do?
Current mobile devices provide for alternatives to the default keyboard. Probably the most well known is the emoji keyboard. Myscript Stylus adds a keyboard to the on-the-fly keyboard alternatives that lets you choose to hand-write with your finger or a stylus while it dutifully creates text from it.
We call the default mobile keyboard an ‘input’ feature, but if you are like me you spend more time editing and correcting typos than actually entering text. Myscript Stylus also includes a small set of intuitive editing gestures. (I can hear all the former Palm Pilot users shrieking in terror as they remember the line Palm Pilot sold them on a “small set of intuitive gestures. That was more like learning Pitman shorthand.) But in the case of Myscript Stylus there are only about six gestures and they are quite intuitive.
Best of all, you can use the Myscript Stylus keyboard in almost all places that you enter text. I was taken a bit by surprise when it came up as I was entering an url in a web browser.
How does it work?
Okay, let’s get down to business. First step is to install the app. This demo is written for IOS (iphone and ipad) but I don’t want to leave Android users out in the cold. Android users can find an installation tutorial here: https://www.cnet.com/how-to/use-handwriting-to-input-text-on-android-with-myscript-stylus/, the rest of you follow me.
Okay, first step is to get the app from the app store (or google play if you are on android.) Here are some links:
- Iphone/ipad: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/myscript-stylus-handwriting/id931394264?mt=8
- Andriod: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.visionobjects.stylusmobile.v3_2_store&hl=en
And a mercifully short video on this step for iphones.
So you have the keyboard installed and now there is also a Stylus app among your apps. The first time you open the stylus app it will give you a short intro. Go ahead and look at it, I’ll wait. (One minor annoyance is that I could find no way to close the short intro to get to the app menu the first time.) Close the stylus app and open it again. This will get you to the menu. There are a few handy entries on the help item that show how it works. Here’s a clip of them.
Before we carry on, a word about Full Access is in order. In its default form Myscript Stylus does not communicate back to the Myscript company. If you able Full Access it will. You can read their notes in the app help and decide for yourself. However, in order to change languages or the appearance of the entry area you will have to enable Full Access.
Alright, let’s sum up at this point. We’ve installed the app. We’ve read the manual. (So if someone on the internet tells you to RTFM you can smugly reply IRTFM.) We’ve looked at the warning labels. So let’s use this thing.
Go to an app where you have to type something in, I’ll use Tweetbot. When your keyboard pops up there will be a little ‘globe’ icon in the lower left area of your screen. Press and hold on the globe and it will let you select an alternate keyboard. So we will choose Myscript-Stylus. You can leave Predictive on if you like and you will get the familiar word predictions as you go. There, we are in the writing entry area and can start writing. Here’s a little video clip showing that. (Note: you will get an opportunity to see how truly appalling my scrawl is.) You can also turn the phone sideways to give a little more room, but I’ll go portrait for the extra challenge.
There are a couple of other useful things to remember. First, once you set the Myscript Stylus keyboard it will be what comes up for text entry. Should you need to access the regular keyboard just tap the globe icon. Second, when you are using the Myscript Stylus, it will come up everywhere the regular keyboard does, all kind of input fields you might not have considered.
Extend your learning?
Here are a few additional resources and tutorials.
- The Myscript website. There is some good information on the company itself and its recognition research and technology.
- The Myscript app page. There are several interesting apps that are based on the Myscript recognition technology. A few of my favourites are Mathpad which recognizes and typesets mathematical equations, Calculator which is a functioning hand-writing based calculator, and Memo for notes and memos.
- The Myscript Youtube Channel. Here you can find some videos of a higher calibre and rehearsal level than the ones I did above.
- And some assorted reviews, blog posts and videos.
How can you use it in your teaching and learning?
Myscript Stylus is not what we would normally think of when we think of educational apps. However, it is a ‘force multiplier’ and can increase productivity, reduce frustration and foster a better mobile experience. It doesn’t take much practice to exceed the input speed of the ‘Lilliputian keyboard’.
I’m always in favour of anything that is intuitive and moves the conscious fiddling with technology out of the way to enable creativity and flow.
A short task—challenge yourself!
You could probably see this coming a mile away. Install the Myscript Stylus and write an email, text message, twitter post, grocery list, sonnet, abstract, missive, preface, forward, acknowledgment, musing, blog post, song lyric or love poem using the Myscript Stylus.
For an extra challenge try to include lots of things like hashtags or surnames that won’t come up in the predictive text suggestions.
Did you try this activity?
Leave a comment below with your impressions of the app and we will enter your name into a draw to win a $25 gift card from Google Play or iTunes stores (see conditions). Some things you may want to comment on are;
- Other ideas or ways that this app could be used in teaching & learning?
- What skills or knowledge do students gain or enhance when using this app?
- Are there other apps or services that you know of that are similar to this app? How is the app different from that app?
- What are the terms of service for this app, and what rights did it ask for when installing it on your mobile device?
- Based on your experience, what is one thing instructors should know when using this app?
- Things that worked or didn’t work in the app?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.