The folks behind Livescribe, the smartpen/pencorder/computer stick/dictapencil (remember?) have finally made good on an old promise: to open it up to 3rd-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'd drawn yourself 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 some of the most obvious implementations of a technology that could clearly do much more complex things. But just what, we had no idea. Enter the application store:
As far as the mechanics go, this is straight mobile app store from top to bottom, from the new SDK to the web interface to the (not yet finalized) 35% skimmed off the top. As far as apps go, this is new territory. Remember—the interfaces for these things 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 worked. In the translation app, for example, you simply draw a series of buttons to serve as translation triggers, and sloppy or lopsided as they may be, they register just fine. The video poker app, which displayed adorable little cards on the pen's screen during play, demanded a slightly more complicated paper interface, which also worked seamlessly.
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 almost any kind of interface, from the playful and literal—I was shown a crudely sketched guitar that played 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, and launched with a healthy selection of apps to sample, mostly ranging from free to about $10. (With one $100 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. Have at it, folks. [Livescribe]