What’s wrong about Livescribe

I’ve been a long-term user of digital pens, all of which have been the ‘mouse-hidden-in-the-pen’ type which use the Anoto patterned paper.  These have been a couple of Logitech pens, a Papershow, and now a Livescribe one.  The reason I haven’t tried more is most likely because they are rather expensive and I’ve lost or broken three of them, which puts a damper on things.

I first started with a Logitech IO2 pen which had to be docked.  This was a rather fat, very dark blue pen with a cap that activated the pen when removed and which had to be docked in a clunky USB-attached wedge of an accessory, which rather spoiled the cut of the Gucci suit, so to speak.  These were the days of Windows XP and laptops that ran for 2 hours, max. While the pen opened more doors than the products I purportedly sold, the effect was rather bizarre and text recognition (ie. OCR) wasn’t that great.  It was almost there, but just a little rough.

I then had some interaction with a business partner of my company (I work for IBM, the business partner was Destiny Wireless in Guildford, UK).  That was great and their sales lady at the time showed me how they could complete a form, take a picture and then upload the result to a computer for a process such as assessing insurance claims.  I subsequently purchased a bluetooth version of the same pen, the Logitech IO2 and tried to use their note-taking web site with some of their special pads.  It worked to some degree, but mere images of the notes I’d taken weren’t much use without some computer index of what I’d written.  Conversion using the MyScript product was laborious (read; I didn’t take the effort) and so it ended up just being lots of note books with computer images of their contents, non-searchable.

It was during this time that I became infatuated with a digital pen called Papershow.  It is the same dot pattern from Anoto but in a large screen format with an accompanying landscape pad.  The idea is that you write on the pad, and your strokes appear on the screen.  Again, not cheap (over £100 when I purchased) and needed some small technical setup – including a fat USB dongle which was the bluetooth connection.  This mean that instead of the built-in bluetooth of most laptops, you had to always carry the pen, paper, and bluetooth dongle.  Which was fine the first (and last) time I used it, but a mess of paper, laptop, caps, dongles and pen including a case to hold it all meant I left it behind!  So if you find a Papershow case with pen and dongle somewhere on the south bank of the Thames in London, you may know who to call.  I still have the paper and spare nibs…

The story thus far is not a good one, but persistence pays off, right?  I purchased a Livescribe pen for my recent birthday hoping that it’s fabled Mac compatibility would fit with my Macbook Air, which I love.  I’d seen people struggle with iPad mini’s to take notes, as well as traditional iPad users with folding keyboards and the like.  None impressed me and no-one seemed to use them long term, so my digital pads seem almost a good idea.  But what I’ve found is that the pen has several missing or mis-construed aspects which do not fit the ‘enterprise’ space easily.  For one, you need to switch it on each time, otherwise it doesn’t record a single stroke!  This is frustrating as the IO2 from Logitech was activated by removing the pen’s cap, so being a natural part of the pen’s use cycle.    Next, the cap on the pen is thumb-nail sized, so easily lost – and uncomfortable to store in a shirt pocket as it it quite sharp – YMMV with this one as it is just a niggle.  Finally, recording someone’s actual words is forbidden in most enterprise situations (“no recording devices”) so I have to be careful not to activate that aspect of the pen, but I’ve previously been challenged when using one of these type of devices.

But it does work on Mac!  It does work with MyScript to OCR the text!  It does create image files!  It does do a lot of things, but leaves me feeling that somehow, somewhere there is a magical confluence of capability and engineering which makes simple the whole note-taking in meetings for later retrieval, searching and indexing.  I’ve yet to find it.