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Anoto pen will change the world

Maybe. But even if it doesn't, it's still pretty cool

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Whenever vice-presidents start philosophising over a new product, you're looking at either a significant technological advance or the death of the company. This may well be the former. So what is it? It's a fat biro. And a computer. And a mobile phone. It's made by Anoto, which is owned by C-Techologies - the company that has been working on the C-pen for a number of years. The difference is that this pen has a Bluetooth unit as well as a camera, processor and memory (and the ink of course) so the pen's movement can be tracked, stored and sent to any other Bluetooth device such as a mobile or PC. No cables. Okay, so what can it do? It can record what you have written and know where you have written it. So, for example, you can write dates in your diary and then transfer this information automatically to the diary software on your PC. It can make sketches or notes instantly transferable. It can enable you to buy something from an ad by simply writing down your details and ticking the relevant box. Wow! Now we can send text messages just by writing on a notepad Whoah. Hold your horses. It can read individual letters but don't ask it to do the same with handwriting. What you write is treated as a graphic and recreated as written. It's a shame, I know. Well, that's rubbish then Look you can't have everything. Besides, if this takes off, it'll probably only be a couple of years before handwriting can be understood. Plus handwriting is much nicer to look at than computer fonts. Alright. I do like the idea of just scribbling on a bus ticket on the way home and updating... Er, no. You have to have special digital paper. What! So I'm going to have to carry around a special £10 notebook? I'm gonna stick with my Psion 5 It's not like that. Look, yes, you have to write on special paper. But this has huge advantages. Each page has a unique pattern of very small dots on it (making the paper look a little off-white). So as soon as you set pen to paper, it knows whether you are writing in a diary, notebook, calendar, whatever. You can even define a certain area with a certain function, like "send" for example - just tick the box. Can't you see how useful that is? Yeah but I'm still gonna have to go to the specialist paper store and pay double the price for a digital calendar Not according to Anoto you won't. Digital paper doesn't need a special printing technique and so the cost of producing it will be the same as with normal paper. It will ultimately be more expensive though as the licence for it is one of Anoto's main income sources. The company reckons the licence fee will be tiny (due to huge demand), and while CEO Christer Fahraeus told The Register he wouldn't be so brutal as to make licenced paper companies supply digital paper along with every shipment of normal paper, you can bet he'd suggest it strongly. Now c'mon, there's going to be a shortage and you know it Well, you have to give Anoto the benefit of the doubt. Their entire business plan rests on getting the paper out there - you can be sure they've thought of something. One thing though: due to the design, there is a finite amount of digital paper that can be produced. Anoto has worked this out to be (in terms of surface area) about half the size of the United States. Big, but not big enough if the world+dog starts using the system. It should give a long enough time delay for an updated system though. How much do they want for one of these pens then? $100. You're having a laugh Well, they cost more than that to manufacture. Plus the rechargeable battery lasts for up to a week at a time. Anyway, they'll be like mobiles - companies will give them away to get your custom. Oh look, I've just found a $100 bill. Go on, send us a pen Can't. They're not out until the middle of next year. Bah! While I'm here, anything else you want to share? Well, apart from the fact that Anoto is relying a little too heavily on other people helping them for our liking (next generation mobiles should be fine - Ericsson has taken a minority share in the company) and that you have to remember to have the paper up the right way (or what you scribble comes out upside down), the most intriguing aspect to this has to be Jan Ahrenburg. Jan is Ericsson's VP of marketing. We were amazed when he told us Bluetooth is currently the world's de facto standard (doesn't that imply you can get hold of one?). But more incredible was the realisation than Jan is in fact half-man, half-mobile. Every time he approached the mic, mobile interference came out the speakers. The fifth time it happened, Jan listened: "That's a GSM signal," he said matter-of-factly. ®

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