Puzzle technology startup Puzzazz is giving Amazon’s Kindle Touch a capability that even Amazon didn’t envision — letting users input numbers and letters by writing them naturally with a finger on the screen, rather than tapping at the e-reader’s tiny on-screen keyboard.

The new TouchWrite technology, developed internally by Puzzazz, recognizes those invisible scribbles and converts them into visible numbers and letters on screen. The technology makes its debut today in the startup’s newest puzzle e-book, Sudoku Unbound Volume 3.

Unlike some handwriting-recognition from years past, the TouchWrite technology doesn’t require users to learn any special way of writing, and it recognizes many different styles of writing different numbers and letters. Puzzazz founder Roy Leban says the company used extensive handwriting samples in the process of developing the technology.

It’s the latest effort by the Seattle-area startup to improve the experience of using e-books, through its lineup of digital puzzle books.

“We think what we’re doing here is the future of books,” Leban said.

What about expanding TouchWrite across the Kindle Touch, by getting Amazon to make it a basic feature of the device? Leban declined to comment when asked about that possibility.

As a start, Puzzazz plans to incorporate TouchWrite into all of its future puzzle e-books. The same books will still work on other Kindles, making use of their physical and on-screen keyboards, but the Kindle Touch is the only Kindle that supports the TouchWrite technology.

I got a chance to try TouchWrite this week, and it worked reliably. In the Sudoku book, the technology recognizes the number written invisibly on the screen, then places the digital version in the corresponding cell on the page of the puzzle book.

The technology offers the option of writing a large number across the screen. In those case, it places the digital version of the number in the cell where the finger started. Alternatively, it’s possible to write smaller and center the character over the cell where you want the number to appear.

The Kindle Touch, introduced last fall, has become Amazon’s top-selling E-ink reader, with the ad-supported version selling for $99.

Sudoku Unbound Volume 3 for Kindle sells for $2.99, the same price as other puzzle books in the same series from Puzzazz.

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  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    “Unlike some handwriting-recognition from years past, the TouchWrite technology doesn’t require users to learn any special way of writing…”

    Wow, that just took me back: I’d totally forgotten about the old Palm Pilot graffiti: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graffiti_(Palm_OS).I even remember people were having trouble with regular handwriting because they hands were retraining for the graffiti idiom.Sounds interesting, look forward to seeing what they do with it.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Funny, that’s exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote that. I remember trying to master the Palm grafitti for about 5 minutes before giving up. Glad I did. :)

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        Good writing then, since you made me think of exactly what you were thinking without calling it out.

        I still remember seeing a guy pull out a palm pilot in 1996 at briefing at a Washington DC Microsoft office of all places. I remember being fascinated by this new thing that was so small.

        I eventually got one but never really got a lot out of it. It’s one reason I was skeptical about handhelds and smartphone for so long. They just seemed like toys. When I got my first android phone in summer 2010, I finally came around.

  • http://twitter.com/jvitorino Jairson Vitorino

    I actually liked Palm Pilots :)

    • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

      I had fun with mine. I just never saw it as much more than a toy myself.

      Of course, if we’re in the handheld wayback machine, let’s not forget the Newton!

  • Mike Mathieu

    Roy gave me a demo of this in December. Very cool stuff. I’m assuming they fixed the number 9 for left-handers since then — the only problem I found back then for an awesomely innovative technology and application. Congrats on the launch guys!

    • http://www.puzzazz.com/ Roy Leban

      Thanks Mike — yes, we fixed 9’s just for you :)

      More seriously, this is precisely why we collected and analyzed so many handwriting samples (and we’re continuing to collect more). It lets us recognize a wide variety of handwriting.

      • Ryan Luce

        This is very cool Roy – congratulations!

  • Minnie

    Other than it seems Amazon doesn’t either have the games or they won’t sell to outside the US, they look great.

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