Tablet Input Panel: Using Gestures for Speed and Convenience

In previous tutorials about Tablet Input Panel, I’ve shown how to use it and how to personalize it so it’s in tune with your handwriting.There are a few remaining things you can do to make it even easier, like using special pen movements to speed up and simplify text entry and editing.

In the days before portable computers made things easier, people learned shorthand to make writing things down faster. Since Tablet Input Panel is designed for handwriting, which may be slower than typing for many people, gestures can make common editing commands faster.

I’ve already mentioned some of the gestures that many people use a lot, although I didn’t specifically call them gestures at the time. When you draw a line through a mistake, or scribble it out to make the mistake disappear, you’re actually using a gesture. And remember those correction video buttons at the top of the Tablet Input Panel window? Those are actually showing you how to use gestures as well. (See the previous tutorial - Windows 7’s Tablet Input Panel: Text Entry and Handwriting Recognition - to refresh your memory.) Very simply, a gesture is a motion that you make with your pen, or a symbol that you draw with your pen, that doesn’t show up as a character on your screen, but rather tells Tablet Input Panel to do something.

Gestures work in English, Japanese, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Korean, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese (Brazil). There’s an additional set of gestures for Chinese compared to other language.

You might know about gestures already

If you’ve used a PDA that let you enter text by writing on it with a stylus, you’ll already be familiar with gestures. Tablet Input Panel doesn’t have as extensive a list of gestures as PDAs do, but what’s there is very useful. When you use a gesture, Tablet Input Panel accepts it as if you’d typed the command on the keyboard, or written it on the writing pad or character pad.

However, there is one major difference from using gestures on a PDA, and this may take a little getting used to—you must make sure that there’s no other ink on the writing space when you use the gesture. If there’s something still there, Tablet Input Panel will try to recognize the gesture as a character of some kind. (The only time this does not happen is if you’re striking or scribbling something out.) So, write what you want, transfer it to the application of choice, and then gesture away.

Let’s gesture!

To use gestures, tap the Tools menu, then tap Options, and on the Advanced tab select either ‘Use gestures commonly used on handheld computers’ (which is selected by default) or ‘Use gestures from the Simplified Chinese (PRC) standard, GB/T 18790-2002’ - if you are writing in Chinese.

Here are what the gestures look like. In each case, you start by putting your pen down where the dot at the end of the line is, and then draw the rest of the gesture as shown. A backspace is a line drawn from right to left, for example.

Source: Gestures commonly used on handheld computers.

Here are the gestures that are used just for Chinese. As you can see, they are mostly the same as the standard gestures above.

To show you how a gesture works, I’ll use the one that’s equivalent to pressing the Enter key on a keyboard. Make sure that what you’ve written has been recognized and transferred (in this example, into Notepad). The cursor is at the end of the line.

Now, making sure that your pen’s tip is pressed to the tablet, draw a vertical line, then make a right-angle turn and continue to your left. The left part of the line should be at least two to four times longer than the vertical part, or even longer, before you lift the pen from the tablet. The gesture should be done as quickly and as smoothly as you can.

Notice that the cursor is now positioned on the next line in Notepad.

Continue writing on the next line.

When you first try this, your gesture might not be recognized properly (it takes a bit of trial and error to get it right, for most people). Try writing the gesture faster and make sure the leftward part of the line is noticeably longer than the vertical part. It might take you several tries to get the right combination of speed and line length. Just keep working, it will come!

These suggestions work for the other gestures as well (backspace, space, and tab). Writing faster and making the line longer is usually the key to success. Once you’ve practiced, you’ll be able to speed up your text entry and do most of what you need by writing rather than by using the keyboard. Practicing this new skill is definitely worth the effort.

Putting it all together

In this series of tutorials I’ve gone through Tablet Input Panel’s capabilities, from the simple to the complex. In learning how to use it myself, I found that it was rather like what we learned in school—printing, then cursive, then shorthand. Writing and editing with the Tablet Input Panel can be faster than writing with a pen, because you can fix mistakes almost instantly and move your text around with ease. If you have a tablet or touchscreen device, practicing with the Tablet Input Panel’s many capabilities is the key to success!