Handspring Commits to Keyboards

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Handspring has decided that none of its future products will use Graffiti as their primary method of entering text. Instead, they will all include built-in keyboards. At least, this is what The Register was told by Handspring product manager Will Rees.

This news doesn’t come as much of a surprise; Handspring released five smartphones or handhelds this year and only one of them, the Treo 180g, uses Graffiti as its sole method of text input. All the others have integrated keyboards.

However, Handspring isn’t totally cutting itself off from handwriting recognition. It recently began bundling CIC’s Jot natural character writing recognition program with all its products.

According to Mr. Rees, his company is working to improve the mini keyboards it uses, including looking for ways to make them smaller and easier to use with one hand.

Though many people credit Graffiti as being one of the major reasons that the Palm OS has been so successful, recently all its major licensees have released or announced models that have built-in keyboards. Handspring began this trend with the Treo 180, then Sony released its NR series, and Palm itself has announced the Tungsten W, all of which have mini keyboards integrated into their design.

And the future of Graffiti itself is in some doubt. A judge ruled almost exactly a year ago that Graffiti infringes on a patent held by Xerox for Unistrokes, a rival handwriting recognition method. This case is in appeal.

Of course, using mini keyboards isn’t all smooth sailing, either. Research in Motion has several patents on mini keyboard design and protects them jealously. Last month, both Handspring and Palm had to licence RIM’s technology for handheld keyboards.

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