Digital pen learns to write in Mac

Livescribe says beta version of desktop software is ready. On the Windows side, the gadget maker also adds print-your-own paper and handwriting recognition options.

Following through on several of its promises, digital-pen maker Livescribe this week is announcing a Mac version of its desktop software, handwriting recognition software, as well as the ability for digital-pen owners to print special "dot paper" using their own printer.

Mac support was tops on the list of feature requests, CEO Jim Marggraff said at a recent press event, while the ability to convert handwriting to text was the No. 2 most-requested feature. The digital pen had required 32-bit versions of Windows XP or Windows Vista, although it is adding 64-bit Windows support, along with the Mac option.

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Meanwhile the ability to print one's own paper could help assuage some of the cost concerns around a pen that costs $150 and also has required comparatively pricey custom notebooks.

That said, there are some limitations with each of these new features. The Mac software is still in beta, the handwriting recognition software comes from a third-party and costs $29, while the print-your-own-paper option requires a color PostScript laser printer. The handwriting recognition software and print-your-own paper options are Windows only for now, with plans to add them to the Mac version in the first quarter of next year, when the Mac product goes final.

Oakland, Calif.-based Livescribe hasn't released any sales figures, but the company has been featured prominently at Target stores nationwide and recently expanded sales to include Costco. Also, Marggraff noted that the company recently sent a survey to 10,000 of its users, which he said represent a fraction of its total users. (No word on whether that fraction is more like one-thirtieth or two-thirds.)

One of the big concerns for gadget makers these days is whether their products will be seen as frivolous luxuries in these tough economic times. Marggraff said that his hope is that it will still seem like a bargain to college students looking for a way to capture their lectures.

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Livescribe's big advantage over digital pens of the past is its ability to synchronize its ink captures with audio recordings, enabling users to click the pen on a specific part of their notes and hear the audio from that point.

UC Berkeley student Kenji Kurita has had a Livescribe pen since July and found it extremely handy for taking notes in his science classes. It allowed him to focus on diagrams and to not have to catch every word the professor was saying, knowing he could go back to the audio.

Kurita became such a devotee that he's now one of three dozen "campus scribes" paid by Livescribe to evangelize the product at their school. Kurita has also become popular with his classmates since he posts digital copies of his class notes on the Internet.

About the author

    During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried has changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley. These days, most of her attention is focused on Microsoft. E-mail Ina.

     

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