If your memory goes beyond the smartphone era, you might recall the Apple Newton. The handheld PDA was the first such device to use handwriting recognition, although its accuracy was not good. Originally designed for the desktop, Jony Ive shrunk Newton down so that it could be a handheld product. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he 86'd the Newton for a few reasons. One was the fact it relied on a stylus ("Yuck, who needs a stylus," he said during the unveiling of the Apple iPhone) and was created under the leadership of John Sculley. Sculley, as you might know, was handpicked to become Apple's CEO by Jobs, and then fired him. But the Newton also performed poorly.
The Apple Newton used handwriting recognition back in 1993
What brings up the Newton is a new patent filed by Apple in the U.S. last February. Titled "Managing Real-Time Handwriting Recognition," the application appears to be directed at the Chinese language. The application says that "real-time, stroke-order and stroke-direction independent handwriting recognition is provided for multi-character or sentence level Chinese handwriting recognition." Additionally, some of the images that accompany the application show the application used to write in Chinese on an iPad, although a few show examples in English.
It would appear that the handwriting input can be entered using the user's finger, or a stylus. But don't get carried away just yet. This is only a patent application, and Apple's experience with Newton is sure to make the company extra-cautious about including handwriting recognition for its tablet.
Apple applies for a patent on a handwriting recognition system for the iPad