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Logitech hot to jot with new digital pen

About the size of a standard ballpoint, the mouse-maker's "Io" captures and stores handwritten notes, which can then be downloaded to a PC.

Logitech is hoping its new Io digital pen will make the PC mightier, and easier to use, than the sword.

About the size of a standard ballpoint, the Io captures and stores a digital version of a person's handwritten notes. These can then be downloaded, still in handwritten form, to a computer. Logitech unveiled the gadget on Wednesday at this week's conference.

The pen is equipped with an optical sensor that captures the notes a person writes on a special pad of paper. The Io can store up to 40 pages of handwritten notes in its internal memory, using an image file format. These files are then transferred to a PC via a USB (universal serial bus) connection located in the Io's ink well-like cradle. The notes can then be added to documents or attached to e-mails.

The notes aren't, however, automatically converted to text. Though the move might limit the product's appeal, Logitech decided not to include handwriting-recognition software with the gadget.

"The technology is out there for handwriting (recognition), but we don't think it's at the level to meet people's expectations," said Nathan Papadopulos, a Logitech spokesman.

The Io is similar to past products such as A.T. Cross' and IBM's ThinkPad , a laptop computer with a digital pen and notebook attached. The Io is less expensive, though; the CrossPad, for example, sold for $399. The $200 Io, set to hit the market in November, includes a special notepad, a Post-It notepad, a cradle and a bundle of software. Replacement notebooks will cost about $10.

Writing on the wall
Once seen as science fiction, computers that can speak, recognize voice commands and capture handwriting are getting a little closer to everyday reality.

Companies ranging from Logitech to start-ups like Canesta and , to big names like IBM, Intel and Microsoft, all have various research projects in the works that explore the field of natural interfaces and data input. Intel, for example, is investigating computer , which could someday allow people to operate computers using gestures. All of the major companies also have handwriting-recognition and -activation projects underway.

IBM used this week's DemoMobile show in La Jolla, Calif., to unveil its ViaVoice Translator, new language translation that lets handhelds translate English into French, German, Italian and Spanish. Phrases translated by the software can be rendered as text or spoken by the handheld.

Also at DemoMobile, Pen&Internet demonstrated its Advanced Notes Recognition program, which can recognize shapes and convert handwriting to text.

In addition, Canesta introduced a set of chips that will give computers the ability to recognize gestures. Using the chips, handheld devices could project images of a full-size keyboard and mouse and then use a three-dimensional sensor to translate finger and arm movements into keystrokes and mouse maneuvers. The concept is not unlike that used by Virtual Devices for its gadget.

The company plans to sell the chips, which will be used first to create a virtual keyboard and mouse for handheld devices, to makers of PDAs, cellular phones and tablet computers. It has already begun shipping small numbers of the keyboard chips to customers.

Microsoft is also chiming in; the company is taking another swing at improving the pen-driven user interface and handwriting recognition for its Windows XP software, which will be available on new notebook computers later in the year.