In 1983 Steve jobs stated:
“What we want to do is we want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you”.
This vision was realised 27 years later with the iPad. But this particular book was lacking a simple pen. And it seems Apple have no plans to officially support a natural feeling pen which allows for the most important lesson we learn at school: how to write.
Stylus makers have provided many attempts at building fine tipped, natural feeling pens to enable users to hand-write notes, draw, and communicate clearly with colleagues and friends. But in almost every case one is left feeling like they are holding a giant crayon and things always go awry if you place your palm on the sensitive screen itself. Lets face it, writing on digital tablets is about as elegant as chiseling on stone tablets.
It’s one of those problems which we have just ignored, hoping that the whole importance of developing good handwriting, punctuation and spelling will just go away.
In July 2010 Livescribe launched an amazing product called the Echo Smartpen. It was a real game changer. The pen created a niche for itself amongst professionals and students. If used in its simplest format it worked great, but once the collected notes became digital the playback and sharing steps all seemed a little disjointed.
Sky wifi smartpen
Today sees the launch of the Sky wifi Smartpen from Livescribe. I was fortunate enough to talk with one of the Livescribe founders Sasha Pesic about what to expect and the directions for Livescribe in the coming 12 months.
“We needed to make the pen more relevant”. Sasha continued to expand a little about the market research Livescribe had conducted. It revealed that 54% of tablet users (of 600 surveyed) still preferred to capture handwritten notes. Over a quarter purchased a stylus but only 13% of those were “very satisfied”.
Clearly a market exists to enable users to continue to use pen and paper but have the simplicity of viewing and sharing recorded notes to a tablet device. Introduce wifi and one of the biggest names in cloud computing; Evernote, and you have a glimpse into the classrooms of tomorrow.
The pen itself is of identical form to the Echo Smartpen but with the ability to connect to a wireless network. This connectivity allows the pen to communicate directly with your Evernote account. Previously you had to connect the pen via USB and use the Livescribe Desktop application. This process has now been completely removed. Once set-up all of your notes magically appear inside your Evernote account.
With the amazing reach that Evernote already has and the support across so many different web browsers and devices this partnership makes perfect sense. Evernote is a free service but is restricted to 60mb per month upload data. Keen to support the potential of the Sky wifi smartpen Evernote have increased this limit to a whopping 500mb per month just for Livescibe users. That’s equivalent to 10,000 pages of notes or up to 70 hours of recorded audio!
Once inside Evernote you can add tags to your pages which will enable you to quickly search your notes, but if you’re anything like me it seems quite unlikely that you will manually add these tags. So can I have my handwritten notes transcribed into electronic text? Not yet, but Livescribe are working with Vision Objects to develop a new handwriting-to-text solution.
The Pencast is the result of your note-taking session, and can be reviewed in a linear or non-linear fashion via a web browser (utilising the Livescribe player). The pencasts are now beautifully rendered in full HTML5 and my tests showed excellent responsiveness and fast loading times. The only current restriction is the need for an internet connection. However in Q1 of 2013 expect full PDF support meaning you can locally save your pencasts and share them as trusty old PDF documents. I look forward to a time when to “pencast” is as commonplace as creating a podcast.
The impact of livescribe and classrooms.
These simple enhancements show huge potential for the pen, but what really got my interest was our discussion surrounding the native app development for iOS and Android. Although very speculative Sasha gave an insight into the mobile SDK which allows for direct pairing to a tablet device. This could mean teachers viewing handwritten notes of anyone of her students at any given time. Interactive whiteboards could finally be laid to rest as teachers project their realtime notes to the whiteboard. Livescribe are working on their own app but the potential from third party developers could be huge.
I’m hoping to get my hands on the Sky wifi smartpen in the next few days and I will publish a full review. The Pens come in 3 flavours: 2, 4, and 8Gig and start at $229.