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?