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Graphical language aims to do away with proprietary digital styluses

Graphical language aims to do away with proprietary digital styluses

Wacom's WILL will make it easier to capture handwriting or sketches, share them and recreate them on other platforms, Wacom said

Wacom CEO Masahiko Yamada wants to create a common language for cross-platform handwritten input.

Wacom CEO Masahiko Yamada wants to create a common language for cross-platform handwritten input.

Wacom has grand designs for a new graphical language that, it says, will allow input and sharing of writing movements across multiple platforms, with or without one of its trademark digital styluses.

WILL, short for Wacom Ink Layer Language, will store pen strokes in a Stroke File Format and allow them to be streamed using its Stroke Messaging Format. The file formats capture not only coordinates and pressure, but also who made an ink stroke, and when, said Heidi Wang, Wacom's senior global product manager for consumer products, at a news conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Wednesday.

The Japanese company plans to offer WILL SDKs (software development kits) for capturing and rendering the file formats for major operating systems including iOS, Android, OS X and Windows -- and even for Web browsers.

One of the more far-fetched usage scenarios Wang proposed for WILL involved digitally signing documents using a pen that would certify who had manipulated it thanks to a built-in DNA sampling device.

More commonly, WILL could be used for capturing handwritten messages or sketches traced with a stylus or a fingertip and recreating them, and the sequence of their creation, on other devices by transmitting them over the Internet.

"WILL is not a technology, it's a platform. It's not a product," said Wacom CEO Masahiko Yamada.

It's not just an abstraction, though: there is already working code. Wang and a colleague were able to engage in a duel of styluses using a demo app developed internally, sending one another handwritten messages between two iPads via an Internet-connected server located somewhere in Europe. Penstrokes made on one device appeared almost instantly on the other.

Wacom hopes to attract other companies to the platform by offering a universal pen API that hardware manufacturers and app developers alike can incorporate in their products. A bank in Spain is already using the system as the basis for its workflow system, Yamada said. He declined to name the companies with which Wacom is working on WILL, however.

The company will release SDKs in March, he said.

"Existing standards are all designed for a specific operating system or even application," said Wang. "WILL is an abstract language with a binary layer where data is stored. it needs to be binary to ensure the speed of Internet transmission. Files can be opened in any kind of application and modified. The ink data is stored in a modular way: the stroke model, how it should be rendered, the graphical representation and the metadata about who made it and when," she said.

It would be possible to apply handwriting recognition algorithms to the stroke data, and to store a text representation of the strokes in the metadata, she said.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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