Google brings its handwriting input to desktop

Users can write out foreign characters, and then get instant translations

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
July 25, 2013
Short URL:

Google's handwriting tool, which lets users write out foreign characters for translation, is being brought to desktop, with its addition to the Google Translate homepage, the company announced on Wednesday. 

The tool lets users write out characters that you can't necessarily spell out on a keyboard, and then get instant translations.

All users have to do is chose an input language. Then they will see the input tools icon at the bottom of the text area. Once they click the input tools icon to switch to handwriting in the drop-down menu, thy can then begin drawing the characters n the main panel of the handwriting tool.

Multiple characters can be drawn at one time.

"Handwriting input lets you translate a written expression, even if you don’t know how to type the characters," Google product manager Xiangye Xiao wrote in the blog post. "For example, suppose you see the Chinese expression '饺子' and want to know its meaning in English, but have no idea how to type these characters. Using the new handwriting input tool, you can simply draw these characters on your screen and instantly see the translation."

The feature is now available in 45 languages, including Arabic, Cherokee, Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Mongolian, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Russian, Thai, and Yiddish.

The handwriting tool has been a feature on Google Translate for a while now. It was brought to Google Translate on Android last year. Google Input Tools were then updated earlier this year, on desktop with new virtual keyboards, input method editors, and transliteration input tools. 

The tools also available in other Google products, including Gmail, Drive, and Chrome.

It makes sense that this feature was brought to mobile first, since it seems as though there would be more use cases while being on the go.

Let's say, for example, you're in foreign country, one with a language without the same characters as English. You see a sign, eit her for a restaurant or a bus stop, and you want to know what it says. You can't translate it since your phone doesn't have those characters. So this feature could help you find out where you are, where you are going and what kind of food you might be eating.

Honestly, it is a little hard to imagine a scenario where this would be very useful on the desktop. And using a mouse to write out Chinese or Japanese symbols seems like it would be pretty difficult.

(Image source: