The folks behind Livescribe, the smartpen/pencorder/computer stick/dictapencil (remember?) have finally made good on an old promise: to open it up to third-party applications. That's right folks — now there's an app store for pen and paper.
Before we get into the new stuff, a refresher from our original review:
The Livescribe Pulse Digital Smartpen records your notes two ways: it creates digital copies of everything you write by hand while recording audio at the same time. It also goes one step further and links the two together, so you can quickly access audio by tapping parts of your notes. All of this is uploaded to your computer where the Livescribe software archives and makes your notes fully searchable. In addition, it offers features like a calculator, [demo]translator, and a paper piano that plays a mini piano you draw on paper.
That last part, at least at the time, felt like a bit of a tease: the ability to tap on a flat, printed paper calculator or a piano that you've drawn yourself and get accurate feedback was plenty cool, but didn't amount to much more than a tech demo. More to the point, it gave an extremely vague sense of potential since the functions, translator aside, were obvious implementations of a technology that could clearly do much more complex things. But what, we had no idea. Enter the application store:
As far as the mechanics go, this is a straight mobile-app store from top to bottom, from the web interface to the (not yet finalised) 35 per cent skimmed off the top. As far as apps go, this is new territory. Remember — the interfaces for these apps need to be drawn on paper by the users or printed on special cards.
This may sound like more of a nuisance than a feature, but in the demos I saw it wasn't much of an obstacle. In the translation app, for example, you simple draw a series of buttons to serve as translation triggers, and no matter how sloppy or lopsided they are, they just work. The video poker app, which displayed adorable little cards on the pen's screen during play, demanded a slightly more complicated paper interface, which worked seamlessly as well.
The trick will be for app developers — and Livescribe says there are thousands interested — to come up with novel ways to use this bizarre new interaction model. I mean, the way the Pulse can precisely read and distinguish marks on its dot paper means that a developer could theoretically design any interface they wanted, from the playful and literal — I was shown a crudely sketched guitar that could play back various chords — to the abstract — users could simply be asked to draw and assign their own buttons in whatever style they want. This, combined the the Pulse's audio recording, text recording and handwriting recognition, makes for an unfamiliar, but potentially very powerful, set of tools. Speaking of which, back to the store:
It's in beta now, but it's launched with a healthy selection of apps to sample, mostly ranging from free to about $US10. (With one $US100 exception.) Apps are run in a Java virtual machine and built using a spanking new SDK available for free here. Anyone who has a Pulse can access the store now, though you may need to upgrade your pen's firmware. [Livescribe]