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A killer app for digital pens.

* THE BRIDGE BETWEEN PAPER AND PC used to be either a scanner or a fax machine. Hard copy was fed into one of these machines, and it converted the printed information into a stream that could be sent or saved. Today, the bridge can be a ballpoint pen. A digital pen like Logitech's IO2 Writing System (reviewed in our April Tech Forum) lets you write in liquid ink and digits at the same time. The way it works is ingenious. The pen has an embedded camera that watches and records what the point of the pen is doing. The special Anoto paper is mapped with a matrix of almost invisible dots, which locates the pen strokes as paths on its 8.5 X 11-inch map. Logitech added handwriting recognition for a complete writing solution that can replace bulky machines with an eminently portable handheld. Replace the pen in its desk stand, and the USB connection flows the writing maps to your PC.

Step Two

Usually, a new piece of hardware doesn't really take off until someone creates the killer app or apps that ignite the rocket. Even the computer itself didn't become a personal computer until WordStar and Dan Bricklin's Visi-Calc spreadsheet in the '70s made those truly unimpressive green screens useful for average folks. Makes you wonder if there's a killer app that would work for computer pens?

I'm actually writing the first draft of this column with a Logitech IO2, and that will cut down on my usual step two--entering the text into a word processing program. The pen is somewhat chunky, but no more so than some Tombow ballpoints or the larger Mont Blanc fountain pens. The software has learned how I write, so the conversion to a text document is pretty smooth.

But if this is the size of the box for the technology, you might expect a somewhat specialized, and narrow, market. And so it has been in Europe where the technology has been available for a while. The draw has been notes, drawings, and signatures--along with some specialized forms--forms that are completed in circumstances where even a laptop would be cumbersome, such as situations that call for a clipboard. Forms--now there's a possibility and maybe even the propellant this clever invention needs.


There are countless forms that keep fax machine manufacturers happy--tax forms, accident report forms, bedside medical charts, checklists, etc. What if all of these could be easily printed on the Anoto paper used with digital pens? There would be no need to make copies later, or scans for digital storage, or faxes to share with others.

Well, that's exactly what a company called Talario has done. They created a method for printing forms on the digital paper. It works like this. You buy packs of the special paper from Talario and use their software to print any form on the paper. The trick is the paper knows what form you have printed on it, so when you fill the information out and dock the digital pen, what comes up on your computer screen is the form plus your handwritten information. It's not that the paper has an embedded chip that identifies the form--it simply has a number printed on the bottom of the page. That number identifies this particular sheet, and when the pen is recording through its camera what you write on the paper, it also takes note of the number. The software has logged the form printed on that sheet, so when the pen is docked, the Xpaper program brings up an image of the right form and the written input.

It sounds more complicated than it really is. In fact, the algorithm is elegant in its simplicity. What you see is the form, and what the computer sees is a digital identifier so it knows to combine the 0s and 1s and the blue ink. You have to keep the stack of paper in sequential order, but you use any ordinary printer. The software lets you configure an Xpaper tray, and it will ask you to put in the range of numbers you are loading into the tray so it can keep track of what's printing on which sheets.

On its website (, Talario has a section that lists typical uses by occupation. As you might expect, the list is long. From audit annotations/initialing, appraisers' site worksheets, court documents, vehicle inspections, homework and distance learning documents, mystery shopper forms--you're only limited by what you can create as a form. There's even a lined notebook sheet included in the list of favorites in the program. You add your own to this list as need arises.

The documents created on Xpaper are all in PDF format. Because of this, there is no writing recognition or conversion--just the form exactly as you filled it out. But isn't that enough? To have the entire universe of computing, e-mail, and storage reduced to a pen in your pocket and a clipboard in your hand. For the writing you want converted to text docs, just use the Anoto tablets or notebooks from Logitech or Staples. That's what I'm about to do. So if you'll excuse me, I'll just dock this pen and get this copy over to the art director and production.

Michael Castelluccio, Editor
COPYRIGHT 2006 Institute of Management Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Tech Forum
Author:Castelluccio, Michael
Publication:Strategic Finance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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