Toy or Tool?


Introduction

This post is unashamedly a “geek” post. I’ve just stumbled on this very interesting new piece of technology, the Livescribe digital pen. Stumbled upon is a bit of an understatement, I found it twice yesterday:

At the risk of repeating myself, this is a very interesting piece of technology. In short I’m impressed by the concept. The problems will come with the execution, which I cannot comment on (as yet). As they say in the classics “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

What is it?

A digital pen, plus more?

The idea of the pen put to a computer is not new. It has been a bit of a “holy grail” of computing manufacturer for some time.  There a large range of “digital immigrants”, with fat pocket books (plenty of money), who are still more comfortable in the “pan and paper age”, rather than the digital age. The basic premise of “pen computing” is to make it easy for those who would rather use a “pen” to interact with a computer, to to so.

There have been a number of technologies which have appeared to address the “pen input” problem. Most notable, thus far are:

  • Graphics tablet (great for desktop drawing, but not portable),
  • Table PC’s (pen input bit always too big, bulky, and pricey), have been around for a while.
  • Touch Screen (still around, touch capability has been built into many OS’s for a number of year).

This device breaks away from the impediment of needing a special piece of bulky hardware to enable a pen interface. The pen interface to the computer is the pen itself. All of the “smarts” are built into it (and the special paper it writes on).

How does it work?

The core of the smart pen is the relationship between the infrared camera in the tip of the pen, and the special paper. The paper is “marked up” with dots which locate the actions of the pen on the page, which is what is recorded. Stringing the locations of the pen’s actions together allows the reconstruction of the text and diagrams which the pen has drawn. This information can then be loaded through a USB connection to a PC and the digital pen software.

Once on the PC you have a graphical image of what was written. Converting this into text, or real diagram would appear to be possible. There are comments on the web site which indicate that converting the captured information into text (and diagrams) is possible. The unit would be next door to useless if you could only capture the graphical representation of what was drawn. You may as well just scan the page an have a jpeg image.

Also included:

  • USB connection between the PC and the pen. This acts as both: the download conduit for the captured pen inputs and audio; and an upload conduit for software which runs on the pen.
  • the capability to record sound while recording text. I could be useful for training sessions, meeting, conference presentations, and that sort of thing. The feature could result in a lot of “thinking out loud”, and capturing the notes as well. Could make for a noisy office!

Should I buy one?

I’m not sure. It could be very useful. I’ve a bookshelf of office note books at work, which are next door to useless. They are full of meeting notes from may years. Finding anything in that collection is so time consuming, that it approached to the point to being impossible. This product certainly addresses (potentially successfully) the “I cannot find the meeting notes I made” problem.

Other Alternatives

  • A netbook computer (10 inch notebook). Pluses – a real computer, cheap (compared to other notebooks). Minuses – power, not good for diagrams.
  • Microsoft Courier. Pluses – Form Factor is better than the Notebook/Netbook one, Geek factor 100% . Minuses – Availability (not released.). Unknowns  – Price, reliability, performance.
  • Tablet CP. Pluses – should have the bug knocked out of them by now. Minuses – price (very expensive), size (too big and bulky).

Conclusion

I’d use on if work bought it for me. Chances of that slim. The finances at work are tight, and new toys are not high on the priority list.

Would I use one it I had one. Today yes, when I understand how well it works it (or does not) it could end up in the pile of “it was a good idea, but…”.

 

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