Handwriting Recognition

We worked on the design of a tablet some years ago which had a major requirement to recognize handwriting. How things have changed in a few short years. Now many young humans can't even perform handwriting recognition themselves.  

The ubiquity of computers, smartphones, tablets, and game systems with their physical and software-based keyboards as well as touch, gesture, and voice input devices would seem to have made cursive/long-hand handwriting largely unnecessary. The only handwriting I do these days is limited to signing my name. I wondered how common that experience was among my social media friends and followers so, naturally, I asked them. 

I asked the following simple question on Facebook to my friends and followers, "what percentage of the writing that you do during a typical day uses cursive/long-hand?". The results showed that cursive is used on average 17.8% of the time but the distribution was bimodal with a significant majority (75%) using cursive for less than 5 percent of the time. Those friends and followers thus were much like me using handwriting for little more than signing their name. Interestingly though, a few still use cursive for the majority of their writing and find great utility in it.

This direction suggests that computer manufacturers wouldn't have much of a market if they created a tablet with handwriting recognition. That was a rather hard problem to solve anyway so I'm sure that manufacturers aren't too upset by the shrinking of this market. It also means that handwriting skills are also not being practiced and, in fact, many school systems don't teach it anymore either. Given these trends, cursive handwriting may well go the way of calligraphy, a rare skill practiced by a select few practitioners.

I also find it interesting to ponder what happened here. This is a case of humans adapting to computer interaction rather than computer design adapting to the way that humans desire to interact. This is particularly the case regarding keyboards. Had handwriting recognition become really effective, maybe humans wouldn't have had to adapt to using the very unnatural physical or software-based keyboards. Maybe handwriting wouldn't now be in such decline. Did HCI fail users in this case?