February 18, 2010

A matter of context

One of my last posts focused on the Livescribe pen and the challenges it faces when compared with pen and paper. To compare two things requires context. Is the Livescribe's context pen and paper?

If you are looking for a way to digitally capture notes, Livescribe is by far the best solution I've seen. I've tried Wacom tablets, Cross digital pens, last generation tablet computers (need to try a Win7 tablet with OneNote), scanners of all types, the Anoto pen, and most other solutions that entered the market in the last few years. Livescribe is the best solution I've found to date. And I don't even use the audio recording features, third party apps, or cloud based note distribution that separate Livescribe from previous offerings.

I just compared the Livescribe to other digital solutions that attempt to capture handwritten notes. In that context, Livescribe is the best product I've ever used. The interesting words used to describe the context are digital and handwritten. In the digital context, Livescribe is second to none. In the handwritten context, Livescribe competes against an incredibly inexpensive, flexible, and intuitive solution.

Livescribe faces an interesting challenge because over time it has to win in both contexts. While it has to best other digital solutions, it does this to earn the right to try and displace pen and paper from your personal productivity arsenal. For me personally, it won the first battle, digital, handily, but after an extended period using the product, I struggle with the limitations imposed by a battery. Whether it by the normal and expected degradation of battery life in a CE device, or my inability to remember to charge the pen after a day of meetings (which I'm pretty sure is a normal human trait), I too often find myself with a digital capture device that can't capture digitally for the lack of a few electrons.

I wrote the first post more as a reflection as a CE developer on how hard it was to compete with pen and paper. Livescribe is not alone in this quest to augment or replace pen and paper, but I focused on it because it was the first digital product to earn a long term place in my personal productivity arsenal. No digital product I've seen has sufficiently dealt with the recall problem, yet, but I'm hopeful that too shall soon fall. But pen and paper will not fall easily. The fact that they are not digital and are not tied to a battery makes them powerful tools that are very, very hard to replace. It seems that vertical markets, e.g. students, medicine, form based enterprises, etc., might be the first places pen and paper are displaced, but for the knowledge professional, it might be some time before this happens. It's all a matter of context.

Inertial energy, when will you get here?! Not soon enough.
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