Google adds Handwrite to its mobile search input options

The experimental feature can be used on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, but the fact that it only works on Google's search page may limit its utility for many users

Google has added a new input mechanism to the mobile versions of its search page: users can now write search terms by hand, rather than typing them in.

The Handwrite feature rolled out on Thursday, with Google suggesting in a blog post that it might come in handy when searching during a bumpy taxi ride, or something similar.

"Handwrite enables you to search by just writing letters with your finger most anywhere on your device's screen — there's no keyboard that covers half of the screen and no need for hunt-and-peck typing," software engineer Rui Ueyama said.

The feature can now be used on "iOS5+ devices, Android 2.3+ phones and Android 4.0+ tablets — in 27 languages". Users just have to activate it through the settings on their Google search page.

Personal take

Having tried it out, I can see the feature being particularly useful for tablet users, given the screen space available for actions like this. It does work well on my Nexus S smartphone, too.

Now, before I move onto the next bit, I'd like to note that I realise the feature is brand new, and experimental at that. That noted, here goes.

For understandable reasons, the handwriting feature only works on Google's uncluttered search page. However, I never search through that page.

As a user of Chrome for Android (which Google recommends for those using the handwriting feature on that platform), I almost always search through the URL bar at the top of the screen. Having received the Jelly Bean update, I sometimes also search through Google Now (a service that I'm slowly getting my head around). I'm also slowly warming to the idea of voice-based search, simply because the recognition systems are improving.

So for me — and each user is different — I find Handwrite somewhat useless right now

Certainly in the Android implementation, and as long as it somehow doesn't interfere with other touch functions, it would be nice to see Handwrite become more widely applied as an input option. It may not be for everyone, but input choice is a good thing.