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The iPhone learns to read

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Apple's iPhone can now understand hand-written letters, after an application initially developed to allow input of Chinese characters was tweaked to make it understand English.

The application is very much an alpha release, and users are advised to take backups before installing. Once installed it offers an interface that will be familiar to Palm users, but operated with a finger rather than a stylus.

The first PDA with handwriting recognition, and arguably the first PDA, also used a finger to trace out letters. Using its "Screen-Write System" the Casio PF-8000 managed to recognise letters some 25 years ago - more or less. Since then no one has considered a finger to be a useful writing tool, and styli quickly became the standard for any recognition system.

But inputing Chinese is more of a challenge, and while Chinese youth have proved adept in utilising short-cuts to make T9-like techniques usable (careful to whom you send the number "520") handwriting recognition is much more popular amongst users of logographic languages.

None of this should be a problem for the iPhone, which isn't officially available in China or any markets where non-Latin-based characters are used. But the fact someone has developed such an application is indicative of just how popular the handset is - even when there's no official support for it. ®

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