Notetaking demand leads to Livescribe

In my line of work I have found I need to talk a lot of detailed technical notes with illustrations or diagrams. A couple of days ago Jeanette and I were discussing how this has driven the type of personal computers we’ve had over the years.

As long ago as ten years we switched to laptops exclusively. In addition to the normal portability we had envisioned the ability to take the devices into meetings and take notes. I found that their bulk and screen were distracting but more importantly I wasn’t able to quickly sketch diagrams and illustrations while in the meeting. I found myself using a notepad for that and eventually abandoned using the laptop in meetings because I was using an notepad for illustrations and diagrams so I just added the notes there as well. I ended copying the notes to the PC and redrawing the diagrams.

Tablet PC
About four years ago when it was time to upgrade laptops we weren’t particularly happy with Dell and decided a Tablet PC would do it. After all, I could flip the screen, hold it in my lap or leave it flat on the table and use a stylus to take notes. I could get notes and diagrams all in one place, they were digital and did a pretty good job of handwriting recognition. After about a year I upgraded to Vista….all the cool tablet specific apps didn’t work properly in Vista. I had to rely on the virtual keyboard. It was OK, but not as nice as the journaling app specifically for the tablet that didn’t work with Vista. I also found that in order for the tablet PC to double as a full-fledged desktop replacement it needed to be pretty good sized. Its size didn’t lend itself well for holding in my lap during meetings. If I laid it on the table I was forced to look straight down to take notes. I wasn’t able to concentrate on the speaker. I eventually switched back to handwritten notes.

For everything else portable I use my phone. I read eBooks and listen to audio books on the phone. There are issues there using my Epix Windows Mobile phone…but that’s another blog.

iPad/Netbook Tablets
Earlier this month Apple announced the iPad…which sparked the discussion I referred to at the beginning of this blog. The idea was that maybe something that size would be ideal. Maybe it would but at $500 – $600? The iPad wouldn’t do the trick because it doesn’t have stylus support for its screen I can’t write on the screen with a stylus the way I can on a tablet PC. So the thought was that maybe a netbook sized tablet PC would be good..but then I would have a Laptop, a multi-funtional phone and yet another PC essentially for note taking with a $400 – $600 price tag. I can’t imagine using something that size for a ebook reader like the Kindle or Nook. I would need ot be able t carry it around and have it available at all times….my phone does that for me.

Our discussion ultimately led us to describing the ideal solution:
– something that could write on notepad paper
– something that could digitize the notes on the notepad paper
– something that could capture audio and correlate the audio to the notes
– something that could replay the notes on the paper or when it was uploaded.

a little research let us to the Livescribe Pulse Digital Pen. A small, pen-sized device that cost less than $200.

LiveScribe Pulse Digital Pen
I had just started a four day training / architecture session with a vendor where I would want to capture notes and audio. I bought the 2GB pen during lunch on the first day. It is supposed to store 200 hours of notes.

I got back into the sessions after lunch, turned on the pen and started capturing notes. My immediate observations were:

Good Things:
– It came fully charged so I was able to use it immediately.
– It wasn’t distracting at all. No one even commented on the LED readout on the pen.
– I captured over two hours of notes and audio
– I was able to upload the audio with the Mac version of the Livescribe Desktop. The PC version had issues because the workstation used an older version of the browser (IE6).

Not so good things:
– Although it captured, correlated the notes and audio and I was able to upload them I couldn’t use the replay feature on the computer unless I was using the vendor’s hosted service.

– It doesn’t have native handwriting recognition capabilities.

– The notebook needs to be special paper.

In the end, all the “not so good things” can be mitigated.

– The replay of the notes and audio can be downloaded / exported using
* Upload the notes to “myLivescribe” and make them public
* Get the link then paste the link in the the download tool
* The pencast is saved locally as a zip file.
* Remove the public pencast from myLiveScribe unless you want to continue to share it. You can also make it private and share only with those you invite…although they need to login to do so.

– Handwriting recognition…VisionObjects makes myScript for LiveScribe. The program converts handwritten notes into editable text. I seems to do a pretty good job.

– Although the pen needs special paper, the cost of the notebooks is only a couple of dollars more than a normal notebook. You can also print your own paper form an inkjet printer.

Because I can make my notes and audio available to the vendor for our training and architecture session, his followup work of creating a report will require at least one day less than expected making more consulting days available for the agency toward the end of the project.

LiveScribe –

myScript Handwriting recognition –

Pencast download / export –

Admittedly this isn’t ideal for businesses because of the intermediate step to upload the pancast to Ideally, one should be able to export the pencast directly from the Livescribe desktop to share.