OBSOLETE TECHNOLOGY: Graffiti

I’m not talking about street art here.

Back in the early 2000s, handheld devices were quite different from what they are today. Mobile internet was a dream and if you had one of those fancy personal digital assistants, it was really pretty limited. Sure, by the standards of the day it was amazing. It could keep your appointments, let you take notes, store your contacts, and even run a game or two. But compared to even the cheapest phone today, it was a trainwreck.

The big problem was getting info in there.

We take multitouch keyboards for granted today. However, before 2007 if you wanted to get information into your mobile device you had two options. You could use an on-screen keyboard, tapping with a pen on very tiny little spots. Or, you could use something like Graffiti.

Graffiti was a very early handwriting recognition system. It was created because one of the original handheld devices, the Newton, had failed in the market. Newton promised to read your handwriting. It didn’t. So, one of its engineers broke off and started a new company. That company, Palm, didn’t make big promises about reading your handwriting. Instead they made up their own alphabet and made people use it.

Seriously?

Yes, seriously. If you wanted to interact with a Palm handheld device (originally called a Palm Pilot) you wrote letters one at a time in the same spot, using a modified script that looked like this.

This was Graffiti. This was the fast way to get information into your Palm Pilot. And, it drove the company’s success for several years.

Graffiti wasn’t that hard to use. I used it on several devices. You got used to it quickly and it was quite accurate. It was certainly better than trying to tap on a little tiny onscreen keyboard with an uncomfortable plastic pen.

Graffiti was the king of the world.

Until.

In 2007 the world almost instantly forgot about Graffiti. Multitouch technology made it possible for the original iPhone to become much more accurate with its onscreen keyboard. And, that was that.

Of course in later years good voice recognition would come to phones and people would forget Graffiti even existed. I do remember that in years past there was actually a Graffiti app for iPhone. I, like most people, said “why” and ignored it. Today there is real handwriting recognition in apps like Nebo but most people still ignore it. It turns out that most folks didn’t, and still don’t, want to hand write a lot on their devices. But, for one brief shining moment at the turn of the millennium, the world revolved around Graffiti and its hope of a mobile future.