It's no secret that Google loves to add powerful AI into its software whenever it can. The next generation Google Assistant demoed at Google I/O in 2019 is an excellent example of how capable Google's AI can be, and it continuously blows my mind how quick and snappy voice processing is as a result. Google is now using its powerful AI to improve the handwriting experience on Chrome OS.

A few days before Chrome OS 85 rolled out to the public, I launched my usual day-to-day Squid app to work on school homework; I personally own a Pixel Slate, which is a great device for taking handwritten notes. As I began writing, I was greeted with a banner notifying me of improvements to handwriting recognition. That sounded neat, but the full impact of the change wasn't immediately clear — that feeling would not last long.

The handwriting recognition is absolutely insane. Take a look at this:

On-device handwriting in action

The on-device machine learning keyboard recognizes my sloppy handwriting!

I'm the first to admit that I have sloppy handwriting. I always did, and it's something I'm not proud of. But Google's handwriting system was able to recognize my handwriting. My mind is still blown as I type this.

To investigate what changed between the old system and this, I took a dive into the Chromium repositories and discovered a very interesting library: libhandingwriting.so. This file is responsible for keeping the machine learning aspects of the handwriting system into a local file as opposed to the old cloud-based system. The Chromebook's make.defaults file needs to specify ondevice_handwriting in order for the libhandwriting.so library to load.

So far, only select Chromebooks (models based on eve, sarien, soraka, octopus, nami, rammus, nautilus, hatch, and nocturne boards) have ondevice_handwriting specified in make.defaults, making them the only devices to have the ML-based handwriting feature. It's a shame that the highly praised Lenovo Duet Chromebook does not have this feature, but it could be possible further down the road. This new handwriting recognition is incredibly useful, and I'm happy that Google is leveraging its powerful AI to better improve the user experience on Chrome OS.