LiveScribe’s Pulse Smart Pen Adds Mac Support, Other New Features

By  |  Monday, November 17, 2008 at 2:10 pm

livescribe1LiveScribe’s Pulse is the latest entrant in a gadget category whose history is pock-marked with flops: the smart pen. As with previous entrants, it’s a sort of Tablet PC without the PC–you write with Pulse on specially-marked paper, and can then transfer your handwritten notes in electronic-ink form to a computer, where they’re archivable and searchable. More intruiging, Pulse is also a high-quality voice recorder, and it synchronizes your notes with its audio recordings so you can, for instance, refer to what you wrote at a particular point during a lecture you recorded.

I have to admitting that while Pulse is by far the most practical smart pen to date and I’m rooting for it to find an audience, I’m still not sure if the whole category is worth pursuing. In theory, it’s easier to put a pen in your pocket than to tote a notebook, but the need for special paper eliminates some of the grab-and-go convenience that Pulse might otherwise have. And some of its tricks seem more amazing than practical: You can do things such as write a math problem and have it read the answer, or jot a word in English and have it read a translated version. Neat–but cell phones can achieve similar results, without requiring you to wrangle the pen and paper. Ultimately, I kind of wonder if Pulse should be marketed as a voice recorder that happens to have additional features, rather than a pen that happens to record voices.

There are, however, people who just love the idea behind Pulse. I ran into one of them in a hotel lobby last week, when I was plunked myself down on a sofa and put the boxed Pulse which LiveScribe had loaned me for review down on a table. The guy on the other end of the sofa saw it and began to wax enthusiastic about Pulse–except for the fact that it didn’t work with Macs.

I couldn’t tell him that LiveScribe had just given me a heads up about news that broke today: Pulse does work with Macs. Or will soon enough–the company has announced that it’s releasing a beta version of Mac software for the pen next week, with a final version due in the first quarter of next year. Given that the laptop I most often use is a Mac, I’m happy to hear the news, and planning to try Pulse for my real-world work–and I hope that my hotel buddy has caught wind of it, too.

LiveScribe has also announced that the Windows version of Pulse is getting one obvious feature it’s lacked until now: The ability to convert your handwritten notes into editable text on a PC. This feature is actually coming in the form of a $30 third-party application called MyScript for LiveScribe; the news would be neater still if it were simply built into the Pulse software. (I suspect that no product relating to digital ink will ever be a true breakout hit until it does handwriting recognition out of the box and does it well.)

The company is also touting the fact that you can now print out the Pulse’s special paper at home: It requires a Post-Script compatible color laser printer and only “most” models are compatible, and it’s apparently a rather slow process. LiveScribe describes this as printing Pulse paper “for free,” but last time I checked, toner and paper cost money.

More on Pulse once I’ve spent some time with one and the Mac software…

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  1. Bryce Says:

    I enjoyed your article very much. I am a student and have been using the pen for several months now. It has been a lifesaver for my studies. I am happy that they are getting Mac on board now so I can get more of my friends to buy in.

    If your readers want to save some money on a pen I know Livescribe is doing a promotion where they will take 5% off now till Thanksgiving if you use the code Scribe5A03 at