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At DEMO, The Pen Is Mightier Than The Cord

Like many people, I tend to zone out when I hear the phrase "pen-based computing." Plenty of variations on the concept have been tried, including the LeapFrog Fly, which was aimed at the "tween" market. But when Livescribe showed off its latest version at Demo this afternoon, I was impressed.
Like many people, I tend to zone out when I hear the phrase "pen-based computing." Plenty of variations on the concept have been tried, including the LeapFrog Fly, which was aimed at the "tween" market. But when Livescribe showed off its latest version at Demo this afternoon, I was impressed.Founded earlier this year by the indefatigable Jim Marggraff, one of the inventors of "paper-based" (or pen-based, depending on how you want to look at it) computing and a former executive with LeapFrog, Livescribe is attempting to prove that there's a niche for a "Montblanc-sized" computer that can write, record, and play back handwriting. Providing an interface between your desktop PC and your paper notebook, the Livescribe Pulse combines the ease and spontaneity of handwritten notes and sketches with the power of storage and playback.

The Pulse requires microdot-printed paper that can be purchased in notebook form for about five bucks (Marggraff told me he's also going to provide a printable form of the specialized sheets that will be free). Once you write on the paper you can do just about anything with that content, including record whatever was being said while you were writing. The computer will automatically store a copy of the written words or images and upload it to your desktop. The "smartpen" will even translate automatically into Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic.

Marggraff thinks the Pulse will be especially attractive to students, adding that it will appeal to "anyone who writes notes on paper."

The company motto is "Never miss a word." "Anything you hear, write, or speak can be captured and shared, forever," adds Marggraff.

I can think of situations where I would have loved to have one of these - while covering the skirmishes along the border between Thailand and Cambodia in the late 1980s, for instance. Combining handwriting with computing and connectivity is a fertile idea, and the Pulse smartpen will sell for $199 for a 2-gig version. Marggraff has been pushing pen-based computing for some time now, and I'm not convinced there's a real market for this tool right now. But it's a mighty impressive little piece of technology.