What is Apple Scribble and how to use it?

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Apple’s iPadOS 14 will come with a new feature, dubbed Scribble, that allows owners of an Apple Pencil and an iPad to do considerably more than they could before; like handwriting in text boxes for example.

But how does the new feature work, what do you need to do to take advantage, and more importantly, is it any good?

How does Scribble work?

Part of the latest iPad OS 14 update, Apple Scribble works by recording what you’re writing on the screen with the Apple Pencil and then translates that into typed text that an app can read.

Working system wide, it means you’ll be able to write in the address bar of Safari or the chat box of Slack without having to put down your Pencil and start typing on the keyboard.

In some applications, like Notes for example, writing a URL of a website will mean it automatically becomes a hyperlink because the system will be able detect that it’s a website URL. Clever. 

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What can you do with Scribble?

On the basic level, the Scribble feature allows you to write anywhere you normally would with the keyboard (in most cases) and have those written words automatically read as typed text.

That’s typing into the search box, a chat box within Slack or Skype for example, or anything that needs some form of input.

In its current state it doesn’t work in all apps in all places – it’s a beta after all – but it’s pretty comprehensive where it does work. Microsoft Word (at time of writing) is a no go, but filling in web forms using Safari or Chrome are.

On a more advanced level, Scribble will allow you to make the handwritten words you write in Notes translatable into typed text so you can copy and paste it into other documents to share in a more traditional way.  

What are the Scribble Shortcuts?

Writing is one thing, but Scribble also has a number of editing features and functionalities built in to make it easier to use.

You can delete words by scribbling the word out with your Apple Pencil or select text by drawing a line through it or circling it. There are also insert and join commands to allow you to correct mistakes without having to reach for the keyboard every time. 

Of all of them, the delete tool is by far the most useful and one you’ll likely use the most.

You can find a full set of features and how to use them in Settings > Apple Pencil > and then “Learn more on using Apple Pencil for text input…”

Some quick Apple Scribble for iPad shortcuts you can try:

  • To delete text just scratch it out.
  • To select text draw a line through or circle text to easily select it.
  • To make space between letters you’ve already written, tap and hold in any text area until a new space is created.
  • To join or separate characters you can draw a vertical line between them.

What languages does Scribble support?

Apple states that Scribble will initially offer support for English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, and mixed Chinese and English. We’ve found that you are still able to write in other “European languages” however, you just won’t get the full functionality that Scribble offers. 

It’s fine for writing in an app for example, but if you write something in Notes and then want to copy into another app as typed text, it doesn’t work. 

What iPad and Apple Pencil does Scribble need?

You will need iPadOS 14 installed. Apple hasn’t as yet confirmed whether it will work with both generations of the Apple Pencil or stylus offerings from other companies such as Logitech. We tested Scribble with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil that works with the newer iPad Pro models. 

It’s not clear why Scribble wasn’t a feature previously available, but we suspect it’s because of the company’s focus on drawing rather than offering handwriting to typed text support.

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Our first impressions

Apple first tried to master handwriting with the Apple Newton in 1993. The device, which was a precursor to the iPad that would launch some 17 years later, didn’t really pass the test, and the company stopped making the Newton five years later in 1998 after poor reviews and a lack of appetite from consumers.

It’s taken Apple a further 10 years after launching the original iPad in 2010 to give us handwriting tools once more.

From what we’ve seen, it’s been worth the wait. While the translation to typed text isn’t fool proof, it has got the word or characters we were looking for, even with our scrawl, around 90-95 per cent of the time.

Previously, the only real reason to get the Apple Pencil for the iPad was if you were an artist or graphically minded. And even then, it was a pain to have to put the Pencil down to engage with a quick message or type something in. 

Apple Scribble stops that break in flow and allows you to jump between drawing and writing with ease.

That said, it doesn’t solve one of the key issues that many will face. That handwriting is now slower that typing for most, and that if you’ve gotten used to autocorrect for your spelling, all your traits will be there for you to see in your handwritten prose.

Take this article for example. Scribble would be more than capable of allowing us to write it with a Pencil in Notes, but it became far too laborious about two paragraphs in, so we switched back to typing on the keyboard. 

As a technology, even though it’s still at the start of its beta process, the results look very promising indeed.

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