Monday, July 9, 2007

The Big Livescribe post

So what do we know about Livescribe and the smartpen they are to launch this fall?! I'll try to sum it up in this post!

As a background check out Anoto (pen and paper), Logitech io2 and the Fly!

Livescribe started as Anoto Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Anoto, in 2006 but was sold to investors and named Livescribe early this year. The main person behind the company is of course Jim Marggraff of Leapfrog fame, where he created the LeapPad and Fly Pentop. He's hired a bunch of people that have earlier worked at Leapfrog and Palm among others, these guys know how to find and create a new market as well as how to build small fantastic electronic devices!

They are located in Oakland, check it out in Streetview!

The smartpen product consists of the actual pen, the paper applications, the desktop software and the web applications.

The pen has an OLED display big enough to be used as a display for applications like dictionarys but the actual resolution is unknown. It has two built-in microphones, a speaker and memory enough to hold 100h of audio. According to Gizmodo microphones are also in the headphones and this will help with sound separation when listening to our audio notes.

Paper applications are applications that can be run by just using the pen and the paper. Check out the demos on Livescribes homepage.

Paper Replay works by recording sound at the same time you are writing notes. Later when you want to listen to your audio notes just tap the writing in your notepad.

Paper Translator works by writing a word on the paper and the listen to the translation and see it on the display.

Beach blogger works by writing a blog entry in your notepad and then uploading it.

These paper applications are just a sample of what can be done. You will be able to manage and load new paper applications to your pen by using the desktop software to access the online store and community.

According to the demo you can post the blog directly from the notepad. The homepage also mentions that you will be able to send email directly from the notepad (but in the demo for Paper Replay notes are shared by using the desktop software to send an email with a link to the web community, So will the pen include a GPRS/3G part? I can't imagine that. Most probable are a bluetooth component that let's you do this through your phone. Or is it possible it will have WIFI?

It would be a real letdown if you had to dock with a PC before doing the above mentioned operations.

Talking about docking. This was not shown by Jim at D5. Neither is it shown in the demos. I assume some kind of Logitech like dock is used since you need to charge the pen as well. But if bluetooth (or WIFI!) is included it would of course be nice to optionally dock over it as well.

Ok, I just have to mention Jim's D5 demo once more here. Hopefully this was the last time Jim tried to refer to the dot paper as ordinary paper. People are always disappointed no matter how you present or explain it that the pen needs special paper. This will always be a burden for market acceptance. He says in the video that the paper will cost as much as ordinary paper, that will be interesting to see. Logitechs dot paper currently is at least 4 times as expensive as ordinary paper. But even worse is the problem of the paper not being available everywhere. You always have to carry some with you. I've found this being the biggest problem using my io2. I always end up with some notes on ordinary paper and this always makes me think that the whole concept is flawed. So my tip to Livescribe to succeed is to make the paper available for free at the universities. Put big stacks of notepads in the hallways!

Desktop software in online demo (left) compared to D5 demo (right).

The desktop software (that looks different in the online demos and in Jim's demo) are used to manage your notes on your pc (organize, search, share), manage settings for your pen, manage paper applications for your pen and access the web store.

The web applications obviously consists of an online store for paper applications. But an online community for sharing notes (UGC) is mentioned on the homepage and in the D5 demo Jim is talking about how all your notes are online and searchable. The online community also seems to be used in the Paper Replay demo to share notes by sending an link (to instead of an actual datafile.

(Interesting to note is that the receiver in the Paper Replay demo uses the same application, "PenStation", as the sender. So is it a web app that is used through the demo? That the application name is the same as the link address used in the demo may imply this. Or does the receiver have to download and install the app before accessing the sent notes?)

Four different tools will be released with the smartpen for users to create contenet and applications. Hopefully they will all be available for free.

User Generated Content (UGC) is the web community part.

Customer Authoring Tools (CAT) is a web based tool for creating simple applications like interactive books.

Content Development Kit (CDK) is a wizard driven development platform using penlets for building paper applications to load on the pen.

Software Development Kit (SDK) is targeted at professional developers and includes an eclipse based ide!

And finally some general thoughts about the Livescribe smartpen.

I noticed that different paper where used for the different paper applications in the online demos. I hope this was just an example and not how it will be implemented. Who will be able to carry around three notebooks to be able to take notes, blog and use a dictionary? I thought the main purpose of paper computing was to be able to express stuff like this through drawing. Like draw a square and write blog on the paper and it will act as a blog. Write translate to swedish and the word will be translated to swedish. Yes, I guess you get it by now...

The focus on making all your notes available everywhere that Jim mentions in the D5 video is what excites me most. It was always my wish when I worked at Anoto that we would release an application like that. It never happend but now I hope that Livescribe will do it!

Livescribe (homepage)
Take Note: Computing Takes Up Pen, Again (The New York Times, registration needed)
Livescribe Smartpen Links Your Scribbles with Audio Notes (Gizmodo)
Livescribe Smartpen (D5, All Things Digital)

All images are copyright Livescribe except the one from D5 copyright AllThingsD.

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