Monday, September 14, 2015

Handwritten Japanese Input by Google

+Google's handwriting engine is free and highly accurate for writing Japanese characters
-If you already have good handwriting recognition as part of your dictionary, you likely wont need this

Having rediscovered that I own a blog, I thought I'd have another delve into the experience of using Japanese with Android, and quickly came upon the existence of Google's very own handwriting recognition (apparently its been around for months now, though).

I was very happy to see this for 3 reasons: 1) Google provide their input methods for free, 2) Google's products tend to work very well with each other

Reason 1 doesn't really require introduction, everyone loves a freebie, and anyone who has read any of my previous rants will know I am a techno-miser.

For point 2, I'd like to point out how all of Google's input methods* have a shortcut where you long-press the space bar to switch input methods. Thus you can switch between English, Japanese, and handwriting method fairly simply. (Many of the iWnn methods require that you pull down the notification menu and select the input method dialog from there).

So, lets do a little test. I randomly took whatever Japanese happened to be on my desk, in this case "電気料金等払込取扱票"**. Not particularly challenging, but a nice string of characters. So, I'll use a few handwriting recognition apps/input methods to see how good they are at recognizing my numpty attempts at copying these words by hand. The method counts as correctly predicting if it shows the character I want in the suggestions it displays.

Google handwriting recognition 100% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
Kanji Draw 60% correct, of which 50% were the 1st suggestion
Swype (In handwriting mode) 100% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
Aedict3 KanjiPad Extension 100% correct, of which 70% were the 1st suggestion
MyScript Stylus Beta - 90% correct, of which ~70% were the 1st suggestion

Similarly, the results for "納付書兼領収剤通知書"*** were:

Google - 90% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
Kanji Draw - 50% correct, of which 80% were the 1st suggestion
Swype - 90% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
MyScript Stylus Beta - 100% correct, of which 90% were the 1st suggestion
Aedict3 KanjiPad Extension - 100% correct, of which 90% were the 1st suggestion.

Evidently, the methods are neck-and-neck.

I'll keep Swype installed and hope that one day they'll release an update with prediction on par with Google's (Swype's language switching is faster and easier than Google's, but I've grown dependent upon how Google correctly interprets my input in the easier-to-use 12-key format).

However, I am thinking of switching from Google to Swiftkey. Why? Swiftkey's Japanese beta offers: one-tap switching between English/Japanese with very good prediction*4 in both languages and swipe input for English*5.

The other reason for this is that handwriting is only really useful when you need to input a character you cannot copy/paste and do not know the pronunciation of: ie. a random word you find in a book*6. The only reason I ever have for doing this is to look something up in a dictionary. Consequently, having bought into*7 the whole Aedict bundle (which I still think is the best dictionary around, despite previous misgivings*8) it makes sense to use the dictionary's kanjipad.

Also, note that I changed the settings of the Aedict handwriting recognition to search for kanji with the wrong number of strokes because the added accuracy saves time in the long run (if you're as sloppy a writer as me).

*at least, the ones I've used
** Yeah, I also find it depressing that the most prominent Japanese on my desk happens to be my electricity bill...
*** So many bills :(
*4 Google Japanese Input's English prediction is, for some reason, awful. Also, by very good Japanese prediction, I mean I can type "かつこうにいくとおもつた" and have it converted into "学校に行くと思った". However, Swiftkey didn't recognise the word 電磁気学 like Google does.
*5 Swype offers swipe input for both languages, but I never found it particularly reliable for Japanese, which I presume is because of the short consonant-vowel pattern of the language. Swiftkey seem to realise this and offer swipe for English and a 12-key layout for Japanese as default.
*6 or bill! (-_-;)
*7 technically, I only bought the Aedict KanjiPad Extension for the test above...
*8 And I still wouldn't recommend the Aedict OCR app.

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