Notes on iPadOS: Not _great_ #handwriting-on-the-internet

Nathan Galt

In my previous message I wrote that some annoyances cropped up when it came to my writing input and publishing method. This was originally written by hand in en-Latn (Orthodox) to debug some weirdnesses that cropped up.

If you'll recall, this is what I used:

  • Notes on iPadOS
  • Print to PDF (Letter), on-device

Previously, I used Notes a slightly different way:

  • Notes on iPadOS
  • take composed screenshots of text and take some care to not write more than a screenful of text per paragraph (having lots of luck helps with this)
  • AirDrop screenshots to a Mac
  • crop out top (toolbars, etc.) and maybe bottom (swipe-up-to-go-home bar)
  • run oxipng on them all to save a tiny bit of space in the grand scheme of things
  • re-number screenshots with sensible names

Having to guess where the page breaks would be for an 8½″×11″ or A4 page (I waffled between the two because I thought A4's narrowness would improve the readability of the text) stunk. While moving text isn't difficult with the lasso, the trial-and-error nature of the procedure isn't fun. Interestingly, when I tried to print the first page worth of text from Notes on my Mac running Ventura (the most recent version, as of this writing), the page break was in an entirely different place and I would have had to move the blank space a bi two ensure that no text would be spread across a page boundary.

One other odd thing that I noticed was that my iPad got warm while I was writing all this. For reference, I went and splurged on an 11″ 4th-generation iPad — the one with an M2 chip inside. While I do expect the M2 to potentially consume more energy while doing some kinds of tasks, note-taking in digital ink — like I did on my Newton MessagePads back in the late 90s — was not something I expected to arm up an iPad when the ambient temperature is 72°–73° (22°C–23°C). I suspect it's because using the pen will bump up the screen's refresh rate to a maximum of 120 FPS (frames per second), twice what a normal monitor does and possibly 10x of what it normally gets away with if there are no animations on-screen.

Currently I'm on the bottom of the 4th page as I write this. One of the other things that I noticed was that I was starting to get noticeably laggy input while writing — that is, I'd touch my stylus to the glass and markings would show up seemingly hundreds of milliseconds later. (For reference, a screen that updates 60 times a second updates once every 16 milliseconds, and a screen with a doubled refresh rate of 120 FPS will be able to respond, theoretically, only 8 ms later.)

Curiously, I'm not getting any input lag as I write this in en-Latn. As I understand things, Scribble, the iPadOS handwriting-recognition engine, only works for en-Latn and zh-Simp, and en-Shaq is neither. I did notice some yellow underlines under random bits of text, which indicates that the system is trying to make heads and/or tails of what I'm writing, even if its attempts are utterly doomed and only cause slowdowns in system responsiveness.

I could test this theory, at last partially. I know at least one Latin-based language that isn't English — Spanish. I could pull a Pierre Menard and copy chunks of Borges' short stories by hand, and see if the input lag gets crazy high by the fourth page of text.

At any rate, this is getting onto page 7 and I'm not seeing any input lag. I may try OneNote next ("you can use Excel in the kitchen" is not the silliest reason to pony up for an Office 365 subscription) and that will handle page breaks as well as maybe the third-page input lag. Worst case, I use some kind of scanner and you all see the miswritten letters and words I've been able to shield you all from up until this point.

— Nathan