I’d heard of the electronic pen concept from a friend a couple years ago and had made a mental note then to get one. Of course, it fell off my radar screen (never saw it on a shelf anywhere…) and I never got around to it. I saw one, and was compelled to take the plunge. I’m really glad I did, this Echo “smartpen” from Livescribe, is possibly the most useful tool for personal creativity I’ve ever bought. Now, I love my iPhone, and, am sure to buy an iPad soon, but honestly, I see the iPad as optional now. The app I care about most is simple notebooking (the single most productive thing anybody can do to be more creative), and for that, the Echo pen is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Wow, is this thing fun and useful!
The basic idea is you have this slightly oversized pen. You turn it on, you touch a record button and then it records everything you write or draw — with audio! You are required to use a notebook with special paper, their notebook, although you can print your own. When done with your work, you upload your images and audio. The images and audio are good quality. If you are using the pen to record meeting or lecture notes you can tap on the part of the image in question and bring up the sound that was happening at that time. This is pretty amazing, to hear the audio — in the context.
As someone who does a good deal of mind-mapping and drawing I also love the fact that I can simply upload the images without the tedious, and time consuming, process of scanning. I export some of my Echo images to tools like Photoshop to spiff them up, otherwise I just use them, or, email notes and diagrams. To put it simply, I really like my Echo pen.
Since this device has been out for a time (2007 I think), it has me wondering — why isn’t this a bigger success? I see iPad’s everywhere I go now. For all the iPad’s appeal, it is crap for drawing; most artists need a pen to really draw. I have yet to notice someone using an Echo pen in public. Innovation adaption is a fascinating thing isn’t it? It’s so hard to predict big winners, and, often difficult to suss out why some innovations are accepted immediately, some take more time, some never really catch on. Livescribe has made a great success with Echo, and, it will be interesting to see if they can expand on their good start. As someone who has experience introducing products, I know just how hard it can be to find the market(s), even for something that is truly brilliant.
As a frequent meeting facilitator I can see a lot of uses for data capture and display. Wondering how I might hook it up directly to a projector, wondering how I might easily change colors (it’s just one now), wondering how I might get text transcribed. And…I would also love a wider choice of pen tips, the ball point that comes with is not inspiring. A partnership with Faber-Castell?
If I were the head of marketing at Livescribe I would give away about 1000 pens to various influential types in different market segments, and, as part of the deal, do an ethnographic study on how they use the product. I’m betting they would learn some interesting new ways to sell.
Anyway, enough said, and check this Echo Smartpen puppy out, it’s really something.