Livescribe reveals it has a Pulse

Company announces details for its computer-in-a-digital-pen. High-end version will have 2GB of memory and cost $199; a 1GB version will sell for $149.

It may not be quite as rapid as the company had hoped, but Livescribe is ready to show the world its Pulse.

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The digital pen company showed off a prototype of its technology at last year's D: All Things Digital conference, but missed its goal of shipping by year's end.

And although Livescribe is unveiling more details on the product at the Demo trade show in Palm Springs on Monday, it won't actually be shipping the product until March.

But a demo last week from CEO Jim Marggraff shows that the pen has a lot of interesting uses for those who take a lot of handwritten notes, particularly folks like college students and, yes, reporters.

Unlike other digital pens that share the same core technology from Sweden's Anoto, the Pulse is a computer in its own right, capable of recording audio and synchronizing the recording with handwritten notes. Those notes can be then played back from the notebook, with the sound linked to the corresponding notes. Recordings can be played at normal speed, as well as slowed down or sped up. The pen requires what's known as "dot paper," standard paper printed with tiny dots that help the pen understand its position on the page.

The company has also come up with a neat way for people to record audio in noisy places. In such locales, our brain uses the differences between what comes in our left and right ears to help filter the sound we want to hear from all the other noises coming into our head.

The company has a set of earbuds that record sound. As a result, the recorded sound can be processed in much the same way.

Like LeapFrog's Fly Fusion, the Livescribe pen can also perform tasks such as language translation and act as a calculator. Marggraff was at LeapFrog before leaving to start his own digital pen company.

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Video: Pulsesmart pen
Livescribe aims
to rewrite
computing history.

As for the pen, it's using an ARM-9 processor and comes with either 1GB or 2GB of memory, enough to store 100 or 200 hours of audio, Marggraff said. The high-end version sells for $199, while the one with less memory carries a $149 price tag.

The pen initially can be synchronized only with Windows PCs (XP and Vista), though the company plans Mac support for the second half of the year and promises some interesting developments once it does have Apple compatibility.

Livescribe has also offered up a few other interesting details. In addition to selling notebooks for less than $5 apiece, the company plans in April to start letting Pulse owners print their own dot paper from laser (and some inkjet) printers. Livescribe also has its own Web site where Pulse owners will be able to share their notes and recordings with friends, as well as an application to share them on Facebook.

The start-up also is trying to make its pen an open platform, allowing developers to write their own programs for the Pulse using a development kit based on Java and Eclipse.

Despite its many new abilities, it remains to be seen whether this pen is indeed mightier. Livescribe faces a significant, though not necessarily insurmountable, challenge of trying to create a mass market success where others have found niche success at best.

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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