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In 1994, the Apple Newton made its debut and proved notoriously incapable of delivering on its promise to recognize handwriting. Engineer and inventor Jeff Hawkins had a solution: a simplified alphabet called Graffiti that allowed Newton's relatively feeble processor to recognize letters accurately, as long as you wrote them in the shape that Graffiti specified, with the strokes in exactly the right order.
Graffiti wasn't enough to save either the clunky Newton or the pioneering handheld for which it had originally been developed, the Casio Zoomer. But it did become the heart of the first successful handheld, the Palm Pilot, when it was introduced in 1996 and today is found in millions of devices produced by Palm (PALM
), Handspring (HAND
), Sony (SNE
), and others.
JOT IT DOWN. On Jan. 13, the Graffiti era came to an abrupt end when PalmSource, the software arm of Palm Computing, announced that beginning with an interim release of the Palm operating system expected within a few weeks, Graffiti would no longer be part of the Palm package. Upcoming products from Palm Solutions -- Palm Computing's hardware half -- and other Palm OS licensees will use Graffiti 2, a version of the Jot character-recognition software from Communications Intelligence Corp.
The move is a step toward resolving long-running litigation in which Xerox (XRX
) claims that Graffiti infringes on a 1993 patent on handwriting-recognition technology. But it doesn't end the dispute, which has been bouncing between a U.S. District Court in Rochester, N.Y., the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for the past six years. If Palm loses, it could still end up being liable for millions of dollars in damages for past infringement. But dropping Graffiti should stop it from incurring any further liability.
Jot has been available as a third-party application for both Palms and Pocket PCs for some time, and the switch won't be a great shock for experienced Graffiti users. (Existing Palm devices will continue to run Graffiti because the change affects only new products.) But Graffiti 2 won't be quite the full-blown Jot. The complete program supports multiple versions of just about every letter, and some, such as the letter "t" written like a numeral 7, are being left out, apparently to avoid further problems with Xerox. Other old Graffiti friends, such as a "k" that looks like a fish with its tail to the right, will also disappear.
OLD AND IN THE WAY. Interestingly, the demise of the original Graffiti comes more than a year after Hawkins declared his own invention to be a dead end. Now chairman of Handspring, Hawkins believes that while Graffiti made the handheld revolution possible, it's now getting in the way of the devices becoming true mass-market products. In late 2001, Handspring introduced the Treo Communicator, a hybrid Palm device and phone, and offered buyers a choice of a Graffiti version or one with a small keyboard.
The Graffiti version found few takers, and Handspring has decided that all future products will use keyboards. Sony has also added a keyboard to its latest Palm-based Clie models, and next month, PalmSource will introduce its first model with an integrated keyboard, the Tungsten W. By Stephen H. Wildstrom in Washington, D.C.