Thursday, January 18, 2007

Smart Pens

It seems as if technology will soon make the pen as extinct as the e-mail did the letter, but maybe not. There are still people who prefer to write by hand, and certainly plenty of places where it's not convenient or permitted to take a laptop. With all the gadgets we have to carry, portability and multifuction capability is becoming an issue.

Digital "smart" pens may not be as sexy as the iPod or Chocolate, but they've come along nicely in the five years since Wired reported on the hunt for markets for the new technology (created by Anoto, a Swedish company.)

Sony Ericsson's CHA-30 ChatPen is a fully integrated digital pen that allows you to send handwritten e-mails, doodles and more. According to one article I read, smart pens like this one are being used to post entries to weblogs. On the other hand, PLANon's DocuPen is not a pen, but a pen-sized handheld scanner with many nifty features. I can't lug my scanner to the library, but I could definitely take this one with me.

Back in 2005 I included the Logitech IO in a pen ten list I wrote, but with the IO2 the company is offering a variety of software, specialty digital paper and other bells and whistles. For portable multifunction pens, I still think nothing beats Brando's USB MP3 Pen + FM Radio + Voice Recorder (try fitting separate devices that perform the same functions in your shirt pocket.)

One that may be perfect for the old-fashioned wroter, the Nokia Digital Pen SU-1B will remember up to 100 pages of handwritten notes for you. No more worrying about losing your notes in the shuffle, either -- you can store them on your PC in their orginal form (nice if you draw schematics or maps.) If you enjoy writing in bookstores and cafes but need a wireless connection for your laptop, Informatica's Wi-Fi Pen detects wireless internet signals and writes, too.

The smart pen has yet to make a significant impact on the publishing industry, but the potential is there. For writers, smart pens are the obvious bridge between the legal pad and the computer. Editors might someday might use a smart pen to add editing marks to an electronic manuscript and send revisions only via e-mail (no paper involved, so we'd save a few forests that way.) Agents negotiating deals with publishers could keep their authors in the loop during the meetings by writing their notes with a smart pen and transmitting the data simultaneously to the author and receiving their feedback just as quickly.

More is on the way. Companies like Fruits and Maxell are continuing to develop new applications for the Anoto technology. Digital paper is still in its infancy; it might become the bridge between the traditional print and electronic novel (I'm thinking of paper or paper-like pages implanted with programmable text. You'd have the feel of a book but you could change the story to whatever you want to read by downloading a new text.)

Speaking for the handicapped writers out here, I'd like to see a pen built along the lines of an optical mouse (or one that is operated by one.) People who can't hold pens or who can't write legibly with one can usually still roll a mouse.

What sort of functions would you like to see in the next generation of smart pens?

15 comments:

  1. I have a Logitech io2 Digital Pen, and the only drawback I can think of is that it doesn't understand my handwriting most of the time... You have to write clearly, and that is difficult for me :p

    Well, that and that the Anoto paper is quite expensive.

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  2. It would be cool to have a pen that didn't have to write on paper and just stored notes internally. I'm always writing lines of poetry or ideas or shopping lists on little scraps of paper then can never find them later. Do they have something like this and I just missed it?

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  3. I'm still waiting for one that can read my handwriting. More importantly, it has to be my fiction writing handwriting, which is an amazing kind of awful. I keep meaning to take pictures to post on my blog, but I forget.

    Now that I've taken to writing by hand, it'd be very useful.

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  4. Carpal tunnel has made it hard for me to hold a pen for too long. Even the surgeries only relieved some of the symptoms of it~if I handwrite for too long, it's still painful.

    But these ideas are cool... something like the one that stores up to 100 pages of handwritten notes would be handy for when I get an idea out someplace where I don't have PC access. A few quick notes jotted down that I am less likely to misplace... gee, i never do that. ;)

    on a related subject, you said,
    Editors might someday might use a smart pen to add editing marks to an electronic manuscript and send revisions only via e-mail (no paper involved, so we'd save a few forests that way.)

    E publishers already do it this way. Or a lot of them. I get the word file I mailed my editor and changes, correction, etc are made directly to the MS using the MS Word Comment function. Saves a lot of paper and an email is quicker, plus, I've had things get lost in the mail.

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  5. Hasdiel, thanks for the feedback on the IO2.

    aka_nik, they had a product out in 2005 called the Baller pen that came with an erasable, retractable bit of note paper (as detailed here) that might have helped you. Ballerpen.com's web site has vanished, though, and I can't find any office suppliers who sell it.

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  6. May wrote: I'm still waiting for one that can read my handwriting. More importantly, it has to be my fiction writing handwriting, which is an amazing kind of awful. I keep meaning to take pictures to post on my blog, but I forget.

    Sure, sure. You're just trying to keep the power of the purple ink to yourself. ;)

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  7. On the subject of electronic editing, Shiloh wrote: E publishers already do it this way. Or a lot of them. I get the word file I mailed my editor and changes, correction, etc are made directly to the MS using the MS Word Comment function. Saves a lot of paper and an email is quicker, plus, I've had things get lost in the mail.

    Excellent -- I had no idea e-publishers were doing this. I hope the other publishers pick up the habit someday soon -- I'd really like to stop overnighting 6-1/2 pounds of paper back and forth to New York.

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  8. Anonymous8:18 AM

    Have a look at UK company Magicomm www.magicomm.co.uk and www.originotes.com. They seem very advanced

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  9. I tried the Cross Pen years ago. I think it was one of the first digital pens. The digital features were okay, but it just wasn't a very good pen. It was touch/pressure activated, so my hand got sore fighting against its spring. I never got the handwriting recognition to work well, but it did come close enough for me to believe the problem was my scrawl, not the software. I probably would have had more luck if I'd just used it for image capture, instead of trying to extract text.

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  10. Such amazing technology, but I still love the feel of a fountain pen on good stock paper. :)

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  11. I would love to try one of these pens--but I am waiting for them to come up with a thinner version. I can't write with something so thick.

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  12. Yeah, I'm with Robin Bayne. I used to have a pen that wrote had a FM Radio in it, but the sucker was so big all my letters looked like a third grader learning how to write in cursive, so I have it up for a good old fountain pen.

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  13. Anonymous4:45 PM

    Anyone knowing if Magicomm is still alive ? Their website suddenly disappeared today...

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  14. Update: Magicomm is alive and I recently bought some paper and their G303 (aka Maxell DP-201) digital pen on their Originote web site.

    BTW, I would like to take this opportunity to announce the creation of Digital Pen Tips, dedicated on Anoto-enabled digital pens.

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  15. you knwo what digital pen i love? LiveScribe is like a tablet PC, without the tablet...or the PC. I worked on it with my previous employer, Elastic Creative. Personal involvement aside, I think it has potential to be a great technology. It's basically a pen that digital records everything you write, as well as audio that might accompany your writing from, say, a university lecture.

    The pen uses a custom paper that the company will sell at prices near standard paper. The custom paper can also be printed on certain standard printers.

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