Bluetooth pen's patented patterned paper puzzle

Millions of them. Invisible

Nokia yesterday gave us a lot more detail about its new Digital Pen, announced at CeBIT this week. SonyEricsson has been selling its ChatPen for some time. But in traditional style, it hides it on its web site.

Nokia's Bluetooth device is also a real pen - it uses standard ink cartridges - and pipes GIF images over to a phone or PC. There's a USB cradle for PCs without Bluetooth. In its FAQ, Nokia says third party character recognition software will be made available, it doesn't say by who. Digital Pen (my, that must have taxed the marketing team) supports the DUN profile, so in theory, you can draw and send a picture message without taking the phone out of your pocket. The catch is, like the ChatPen, and Logitech's "io", it uses Anoto's special "digital paper".

Anoto is a subsidiary of C Technologies, which produced the C-Pen several years ago, and Ericsson was an early investor and has a seat on the board.

Anoto describes the paper as a map that's composed of thousands of "tiny distinctive squares", which are nearly invisible to the human eye. But in fact, the paper is composed of thousands of tiny distinctive patents, which Anoto makes equally hard to read.

Yes, folks, it's proprietary.

A patterned paper allows the pen manufacturers to produce a dumber, and therefore a lower-cost device (think Newton vs Palm) and it allows for greater flexibility with the paper itself.

Rival OTM Technologies launched its VPen this time last year, and that's a Bluetooth pen with which you can write anywhere. Interestingly, former Ericsson CEO Sven-Christer Nilsson is on the board of this Israeli company. Siemens, we discovered, announced a Bluetooth pen based on OTM technology last year, but that seems to have gone MIA. And OTM's website doesn't appear to have been updated since last June.

So although Anoto licenses the proprietary pattern to lots of paper manufacturers, it's always going to command a premium, and more importantly, be burdened by the inconvenience of lugging around the proprietary paper. Doh!

(Anoto keeps large portions of its website under lock and key. There's an intriguing section where it disses its rivals, but you need to sign an NDA and become a 'partner' to read it. This makes life a lot less fun for a journalist).

So for vertical industries and the public sector, where there's a lot of form-based work, Anoto looks a natural. It doesn't look like a Digital Pen for the rest of us, though, which is a pity - because Nokia has the volumes and high street distribution channel partners to make this a ubiquitous consumer device.

People like paper! ®

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