Chinese Trackpad (Handwriting Recognition) on Mac Snow Leopard


Mac System 10.6 (Snow Leopard) now includes a handwriting recognition option for inputting Chinese (Simplified or Traditional), which is an adaptation from the iPhone 2.0 system. The rest of the entry will provide instructions on how to activate it, but note that it only works on a laptop with a trackpad. As far as I can tell, you cannot do this with a mouse.


  1. Go to the Apple menu and open Systems Preferences.
  2. Click Language & Text (U.N. flag icon).
    Systems Preferences screen cap
  3. Click the tab for Input Sources check either Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese. Make sure that the Trackpad Handwriting option is also checked.
    Input Sources screencap with Chinese options=Pinyin,Trackpad, Wubi Xing, Zhuyin, etc
  4. Close the System Preferences window.

Use the Trackpad

  1. Open a software application such as a word processor, spread-sheet or any other application in which you need to enter text.
  2. On the upper right portion of the screen, click on the American flag icon (U.S. Flag Icon). Use the dropdown menu to select Show Trackpad Writing.
    Menu under American flag
  3. A welcome message will be displayed. Click OK to open the track pad.
  4. A semi transparent dark gray window appears. You can draw in the trackpad and see the list of suggested characters. Note that a delete button is shown in the upper left
    Trackpad with Chinese character drawn
  5. To select a character, drag your finger on the right edge of the trackpad until the correct character is highlighted, then tap once.
  6. To clear the trackpad, tap once on the upper left corner.
  7. To exit the track pad, press Shift+Control+SpaceBar
  8. To disable the track pad, open the Language and Text options in System Preferences and uncheck the trackpad options.

Note to fellow ETS Employees: Trackpad interferes with SnapzPro, so be warned if you are testing or planning to use this.


I don't know the Chinese script, so can't judge the accuracy or ease of the input. However, I would warn that the trackpad disables normal keyboard and mouse operations. For instance, if you need to switch applications, you need to close the track pad (Shift+Control+Spacebar, do the switch, then reopen the trackpad from the flag/keyboard menu). Not very convenient.

It's important to remember that this was built for the iPhone, so probably works best there.

Video Demo (from shoki6229)

Postscript: Japanese

One may wonder how the trackpad handles Japanese, and the answer seems to be that while you can input Chinese characters (kanji), or at least the ones still used in Traditional Chinese, you really can't input Hiragana or Katakana. That means you would need to toggle between the Trackpad and alternate methods of Japanes input. In fact the Trackpad is NOT listed in the menu of Japanese input methods in Snow Leopard.

About The Blog

I am a Penn State technology specialist with a degree in linguistics and have maintained the Penn State Computing with Accents page since 2000.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage ( for a profile.


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