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Application Preview: Decuma OnSpot for UIQ Print E-mail
Written by SymbianOne   
Monday, 18 October 2004
Decuma OnSpot is coming to UIQ. We recently got the opportunity to try out an early version of this handwriting recognition system on our Sony Ericsson P900 and - despite our initial reservations - found it to be surprisingly good.

Handwriting recognition on most smartphones and PDAs is limited to a simple l e t t e r by l e t t e r entry mode, writing each letter in a frame or, on the more functional devices, anywhere on the screen. However this process does not mimic a natural handwriting style, tends to be slow, as the eye has to scan between the entry point and where the resulting text is placed, and correcting errors is somewhat laborious particularly if they are not spotted immediately.

Decuma’s OnSpot handwrtiting recognition system attempts to address these limitations. Instead of entering single letters, OnSpot allows text to be entered across a line, so whole words, or short phrases, can be written. If any errors are made these can be corrected in place before the word or phrase is accepted, rather than having to navigating to the error with the stylus or delete function.

OnSpot has two text entry zones, one for character based text and a second for numbers and symbols. It is possible to write some numbers and symbols in the text window but several, 1 and 0 for example, are hard, if not impossible, to enter because of their similarity to letters.

As with most other text entry systems letters still have to be entered individually, no cursive script recognition yet. As each letter is entered OnSpot performs a recognition on the fly so writing can continue even before the recognition on the previous letter is complete. On the P900 this space is sufficient to write two or three words (depending on length). When a group of words has been written the next group is added simply by returning to the start of the entry space and writing, to facilitate this OnSpot automatically moves entered text to the right to provide the space in which to start the new group. Text is sent to the underlying application automatically when a new group entry is started. This “send” process appends a space to the text sent to the application but if a word was not completed clicking on the green right arrow at the end of the entry area sends the text but does not append a space so the remainder of the word can be entered.

As noted in the introduction text entered in OnSpot can be corrected in place before it is accepted. There are a number of in place corrections which can be performed, including replacing or inserting a character, inserting spaces and deleting characters or word.

Characters are replaced simply by writing over the erroneous letter and inserted by squeezing the missing letter between the recognized characters.

If insufficient space was left between two words to allow OnSpot to automatically identify them as separate a space can be added with a simple “v” mark above the point where the space should be.

Deletions are accomplished by simply crossing out the letters or words that need to be removed.

Single letters can also be deleted with the long blue left pointing arrow in the shortcut bar just above the text entry space. The other shortcuts (from left to right) are; a grab space (the three horizontal bars) which allows OnSpot to be moved up or down the screen with the stylus, move left or right (in the application text not the OnSpot text), space, delete, new line and finally the down arrow hides OnSpot.

OnSpot does have a couple of limitations, but these are primarily due to the size of the screen on the Sony Ericsson P900. As mentioned earlier OnSpot moves text to the right to provide a space at the left for starting a new word when the available writing space is exhausted. This means that occasionally parts of written words get shifted out beyond the right edge of the screen (this also happens because the recognized characters can be wider than those entered) and, in the best principals of Murphy’s law, these hidden letters seem inevitably to contain errors, but can only be fixed by accepting the text, deleting and re-entering. This right shift also means that if a mistake is corrected just as the shift takes place the wrong letter can be corrected. However these are generally minor problems, more issue to watch out for when learning to use OnSpot, not real detractions from its usability. Decuma are considering a landscape implementation which would dramatically increase the text entry space and should help reduce the occurrence of these issue. A landscape mode would also be useful for the next generation of UIQ devices which are likely to be using 320x240 pixel screens of smaller physical size than the P900 screen.

OnSpot also allows the user to define their own unique writing style for each character, as well as create up to ten shortcut marks.

The two key features of any text entry system are speed and accuracy. In terms of accuracy OnSpot seems to work very well with few correction being required in most text entry situations. Accuracy also improves with use, learning for example to dot the “i” in a word like “in” as the letter “i” is written rather than after the “n” as most people would do on paper. In terms of speed our tests suggested that with OnSpot speeds of around 20 words per minute were achievable and with more practice would probably get higher. This speed was comparable to using the standard P900 text entry in our tests but importantly the usability of OnSpot felt much better. (The on screen keyboard was still the fastest way to enter text but subjectively felt slower probably because of key “hunting.”)

Overall Decuma OnSpot was accurate and quick. It feels much more natural than the standard P900 text entry methods, in fact we would be tempted to describe it as fun to use and for these reasons it is likely to be our personal choice for text entry on the P900.

As mentioned at the start of the article this is an early version of OnSpot and the final released version will have additional, as yet undisclosed, functionality. OnSpot will be available as a aftermarket product for UIQ phones, we understand that release is planned to be before the end of the year. Decuma are also in negotiations with at least one UIQ licensee to implement OnSpot as the native handwriting recognition system on its devices.

Read more about Decuma in this earlier article from SymbianOne. More information on OnSpot can be found at Decuma’s web site www.decuma.com.

Last Updated ( Monday, 18 October 2004 )


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