Livescribe Update

I last wrote about Livescribe on this blog in June 2009.

It is time for an update as there is a new version of the smart pen called the echo.

Robert Scoble has done video interviews with a user and with the founder, Jim Marggraff, who explained the new echo features.

The product has improved for digital note taking and now has pen applications.

Software limitations that still need to be overcome include Mac support for integrating documents as is provided in the Windows application and support for more modern web display technology in addition to Flash.

I see the livescribe smart pen as an example of the emerging new computer interfaces that use cameras (and in other cases projection) to extend the computer interface into the real world. There is lots of potential in this direction as these products are still in the early stages of capabilities.

Similar to the iPad or other innovative paradigm shifting new technology the question is how does this product improve upon more familar existing alternatives?

Two points of comparison are:

  • traditional pen and paper note taking
  • note taking and audio recording on an iPhone or iPad

The livescribe is a little less flexible than traditional pen and paper in that special paper must be used but it makes up for that in ways to better share and present the digitized notes. With pen and paper the alternative to get digitized notes would be to scan the notes and digitally record any audio. They wouldn’t be associated except as the final notes and complete recording. Livescribe has the advantage of syncing the notes and audio and being able to present the timeline so you can progressively reveal information and can go straight to the part you are interested in rather than all or nothing. This feature would be most important for longer recordings with many different parts.

With the iPhone or iPad you skip a step as you can capture the notes and audio digitally directly (using apps like penultimate, notes, and soundnotes) without an upload but you still don’t have the progressive presentation and notes/audio syncing. Also even with a stylus the precision on an iPad is not the same as the livescribe pen on its special paper.

Both of these comparisons are for note taking which doesn’t take into account the livescribe apps. Examples of apps include an interface builder, music player, calculator, and translator. The livescribe app store has fairly limited selection at this time especially when compared to the iphone app store but this should grow over time and the apps are affordable at a few dollars each.

In the end the value of the livescribe will depend on whether you can live with the current limitations in the software (which could be improved with updates) and how important note taking sharing and presentation are to you. If some of the apps are of interest that could be a bonus. If you are willing to wait a version with wireless connectivity is planned.

The livescribe echo is currently available in the Apple store for $169.95 (4 GB) or $189.95 (8GB).