Why are there no good iPad compatible smartpens?

Smartpens have been around for years, but you may not have heard of them. Essentially, we’re talking a large actual pen that records what you’re writing as you’re writing it on paper, thus bridging the gap between paper and digital in a rather unique way. Several companies have been and are doing these types of pens, with LiveScribe being perhaps the most famous. In general these pens are nice, and it’s one of those things that would be a lot more popular if people knew it existed.  However, despite some of these products now getting some rudimentary mobile device support, I’ve yet to see anything that made me jump out of my chair to get one.

Like I said, there are some basic mobile device support out there. The new LiveScribe Sky pen is WiFi-enabled, and automatically sends notes to Evernote. Evernote is then accessible on devices like the iPad, giving you a sort of sync system right there. The problem is that it’s far from a direct-to-device system, and I’m seriously concerned about how easy it is to set up the pen to connect to networks with secondary authentication, which is used both at the school I study and the school I teach. If this thing doesn’t have a WiFi connection, it’s useless, even if your iPad is connected- and that’s what I don’t like.

Rs 2500 Apple Pencil Alternative

Then there’s the Targus iNotebook, which is basically a dedicated iPad accessory. It connects via Bluetooth, but it lives and dies by the iNotebook app. From what I can gather, that app is the only way to get notes off the accessory, and the app seems a bit limited. There have been several special iPad styli/pens out there in the last year, like TenOneDesign’s Pogo Connect, and the norm with such products has been to reach out to developers of the most popular existing apps for drawing and note taking, and get support added to those apps. For instance, Goodnotes was my favorite note taking apps before iPen support was added, which meant that I didn’t have to change apps when I got the iPen. Pogo Connect support is also coming in Goodnotes, which makes the Connect just the more appealing. Targus, on the other hand, decided to go the proprietary route, with its own app that has definitely not been around for years, and that’s not a good thing. Apps are living things, they evolve over time, and improve based on user feedback. I’m not paying $180 for an accessory that only works with a thrown-together proprietary app when it could have been made to work with the great apps that are already out there. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel and then make it square, Targus, you just end up with people not wanting your car.

The most interesting smartpen I’ve seen so far is unfortunately also the least iPad compatible of them all. Wacom’s Inkling has the benefit of being made by the company that’s king of digitizer pens, and it’s the smartpen I’ve seen that looks the most practical. It’s not overly thick, doesn’t rely on a tiny LCD screen and special paper, and everything you need to use it fits inside a special case that docks each component properly. Wacom quality is frankly a thing, and this seems to have it. Unfortunately the Inkling seems to suffer from being a Wacom product as well as gain from it, as it’s solely designed for sketching, not note taking. As such, reviews report some issues with missed strokes when taking notes, but not while sketching, and the way you get anything off the receiver truly shows that this was not intended to be a mobile note taking tool. You need to connect the receiver to a computer to get anything off it, so there’s no way to transfer anything to an iPad directly. A Bluetooth version of this would rock, as long as it isn’t locked to some weird proprietary app.

What I’d really want is something that’s a combination of a few of these. I think the iNotebook has the basic system right, but suffers from being a product from a company that has no experience with such products. LiveScribe and Wacom’s offerings show more experience with the product type, but also show some rather narrow minded thinking. The Sky is just a more advanced version of previous smart pens, and has mobile device support as a happy accident more than anything else. The Inkling is for sketching, and it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Wacom that pens work for anything else.

My ideal setup would be an iPad mini, something like the Booqpad to hold it and a notepad, and then something like the Inkling with the iNotebook’s connection system and integration with apps like Goodnotes to go with it. All the technology necessary is out there, you just need someone who can put it together properly, instead of splitting it between different companies who each screw up in their own unique way.

 

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

20 thoughts on “Why are there no good iPad compatible smartpens?

  • December 31, 2012 at 12:04 pm
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    Why aren’t there any pen & paper folio for tablets? Sometimes a quick note is just more convenient. Plus the pen could double as a stylist.

    Reply
  • January 1, 2013 at 10:19 am
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    What do you think of the iPen2 which has recently launch on Kickstarter?

    I think it was you who was critical of their last campaign and broken promises?

    Sounds like it is what the 1 should have been.

    However they aren’t guaranteeing mini support yet, so that makes the decision to back easy for me and the initial few days look pretty underwhelming on the pledge front and they want lots more cash this time.

    Reply
    • January 1, 2013 at 10:24 am
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      When I saw it I was contemplating whether I should writ an article warning people about it. Whether or not it’s a good product in itself, Cregle has shown it’s such a shitty company that I wouldn’t recommend that anyone pledge. I would wait until several months after it’s released, both to see reviews of the thing itself, and to see app support. One of Cregle’s biggest broken promises was app support, listing apps that never added support for it. It didn’t matter much to me since the app I do use got support, but it shows that it’s a company you should stay away from

      Reply
      • January 1, 2013 at 10:29 am
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        I think the iPen was how I found this blog. Took your comments into account on whether to get one and in the end thought the supported apps would work for me.

        So I imported one to the UK and then never got around to using it.

        Now I have a mini and can’t use it!

        Reply
        • January 1, 2013 at 10:36 am
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          I’m in a similar situation. I sold the iPen with the iPad 2, now have a mini. I used it a bit, but the issue with having to calibrate it for each sitting was what really got in the way. Right now I’m keeping an eye on the Pogo Connect, as Goodnotes support is apparently coming to it, and I also sent in a suggestion to both those who make the Connect and Goodreader (not goodnotes) asking for support there. Pressure sensitivity is fairly useless for notes, and palm rejection is not as useful when you use partial zoom modes, as you’re rarely holding your hand over the screen anyways. However, if Goodreader came with Pogo Connect support for automatically switching to annotation mode when in use, similar to how the iPen works with Notes Plus, I would be sold.

          Collusion is also a name to keep in mind these days, but I think they’ve essentially sheltered themselves from the community a bit too much. Right now I just use normal styli, but do keep an eye out.

          Reply
  • January 1, 2013 at 10:36 am
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    The pogo connect looks promising, but it needs more note taking apps before I’d jump on it. Seems some are coming, but as iPen showed, coming is not enough.

    The reason there no great options is because there is no standard pen API. it relies on hardware creators convincing app makers to build in support and for many there won’t be much incentive to do that as the work to reward ratio will likely low.

    Chicken and egg. Can’t support you pen as you haven’t sold any. Can’t sell the pen without the support…

    Reply
    • January 1, 2013 at 10:46 am
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      Yeah, I’m fearing that at one point developers will just start ignoring pleas for integrating support. I plan on doing an article on the Connect once I get a reply back from TenOneDesign, which should be later this week if they’re awake over there. I already got a response from Goodreader about my idea, and it was their standard cut and paste reply that they’re sending to everyone. I like the app, but by god, their customer service emails need to come with free toilet paper to wipe up all the bullshit. Without the functionality I suggested for Goodreader, namely the ability to annotate with the pen without having to manually go into annotation mode all the time, the Pogo Connect is frankly not very interesting from a note taking perspective.

      Reply
      • January 1, 2013 at 10:49 am
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        Please keep us updated if you get anywhere.

        PDF annotation with a pen on the mini would be an excellent addition to my Livescribe and could see me living happily with two pens.

        Reply
  • January 1, 2013 at 10:47 am
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    Had forgotten about Collusion. I only heard about it after the KS had finished.

    Will watch that too. In no hurry really, still using my Livescribe pen and whilst I’d like to move to doing it all on my ipad i’m not sure I’m going to find the switch easy.

    Plus the big thing about the Livescribe pens that is often overlooked is the audio is synced with the notes so you can hear what was happening when you made the note. Most useful and means notes don’t have to be too detailed…

    Reply
    • January 1, 2013 at 10:48 am
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      Which Livescribe do you have? The Sky would frankly be more interesting to me if it didn’t rely on Evernote. I take tons of notes, but I’ve never found Evernote useful, and I’ve tried hard. It just lacks soooooooooo many features you find in various note taking apps that I don’t see how it’s in any way worth a monthly fee.

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      • January 1, 2013 at 10:53 am
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        I have the Echo and had a pulse. Was tempted to get a Sky, but whilst the instant syncing sounds good, it’s not really going to work outside your known networks and then you may as well just dock it to the PC.

        My main use is to have hard copies of my notes and to hear my meetings back at relevant points when I can’t decipher my scrawl!

        The notes being on my iPad isn’t actually that much of a need for me.

        Reply
  • January 3, 2013 at 6:56 am
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    I sent off a message to Livescribe regarding the WiFi capabilities of the Sky, and the response was disappointing. Apparently it can’t handle networks with secondary logins (capitive portals). which in practice means it doesn’t have functional WiFi for my use.

    Reply
  • January 4, 2013 at 6:42 am
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    what everyone seems to be saying is they want a pen enabled device, but the Ipad is not, why would you need to find a work around for a crippled device, the right tool for the job, in this case it is would be an active digitizer enabled device. This is not about Windows vs IOS, just about the tools best suited for the job.

    Reply
    • January 4, 2013 at 6:46 am
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      Give me a Windows 8 RT tablet with an active digitizer and OneNote, weighing in at 308 grams for an 8-inch device, and we’ll talk. Or give me a Galaxy Note tablet that actually has usable software, not that epic shit that ships with the Note 10.1. Until then, the hassle of using magnification mode writing on the iPad (mini) is far less annoying than what you have to live with on other devices imo. The right tool for the job needs to be able to do the entire job, not a tiny portion of it

      Reply
  • January 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm
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    ok, look at the thinkpad 2, same size as the ipad, but a full operating system (x86) and an active digitizer, ok, its a little bit more money, but when you factor in all the pens and other items people buy, it would be my first choice. I own an ipad, but i always carry a tablet, (windows based) with dual touch and active pen

    Reply
    • January 4, 2013 at 12:41 pm
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      Decent specs for being Windows, but it’s still twice the size and weight of an iPad mini, with a real world battery life that I very much doubt matches it. Magnification mode writing is to me not that much more of a hassle than having a true digitizer pen, so unless a device is as good as the iPad mini for other things, it’s not a competition. A twice as big and heavy, more expensive, likely shorter lasting device that I don’t have an established software arsenal for what I do is not an alternative. That’s for my personal use though, I can see it being an alternative for others. I certainly would take the Thinkpad 2 over the Note 10.1.

      Reply
  • January 8, 2013 at 7:55 am
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    Hi Andreas

    What have you found to be the best app for annotating PDFs?

    I need to travel and comment on a 140 PDF and feel like doing that on the iPad if I can…

    Cheers
    Marc

    Reply

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