I am your technology proxy.

by francine Hardaway on October 26, 2005

I am your technology proxy. Every nightmarish experience you will ever have with a piece of technology I have already had, from poor customer service, to products that don�t work as intended, to money poured down the black hole of early adoption.

Did I tell you that I dropped a $625 cellphone in the toilet this week? It was in the back pocket of my Seven jeans, and you can guess the rest. Or that I also water damaged its replacement, a Blackberry 7105t on the same day? I�m now on my second Blackberry. Yes, in a single day this week I demolished $1000 of telecommunications equipment. That was after the video IPOD arrived. (Everything they say about the screen is true: it�s perfectly possible, in fact sometimes desirable, to watch �Desperate Housewives� on a small screen). The video IPOD is now full of TV shows, podcasts, and other non-musical artifacts. My music is on its own IPOD.

And it was also after the FlyPen arrived. I bet you don�t even know what the FlyPen is. It is a pen computer made by Leapfrog Enterprises, the people who make the LeapPad, one of the most popular children�s edutainment toys (I have bought at least a half dozen of them as gifts for people with pre-schoolers). But the FlyPen is aimed at teenagers.

This is the device that will take over the world. About ten years ago, or more, there was a pen computing company in Arizona called Slate. It was a wonderful idea, being able to enter text with a pen, but it was unbelievably ahead of its time. Its genius of a founder, Vern Raburn, has now gone off to do something else that�s unbelievably ahead of its time: personal jet taxis.

But pen computing, like speech recognition, has always been the Holy Grail of men who don�t type, so the idea never goes away. It has surfaced repeatedly in various touch screens, note-taking software, and Tablet PCs. If you think about it, pen computing is now at the Best Buy checkout stand, when you sign your credit card slip with the little stylus attached to the screen.

FlyPen is different. No screens or styli are involved. The entire device is handheld like a pen, and you use it to write on, of all things, PAPER. Which makes it possible to use in, say, middle school. Or, say, fancy restaurants where you wouldn�t dream of hauling out your laptop.

You write with the FlyPen on its special lined paper, and an optical scanner takes a picture of each character and saves it in a small self-contained computer. The pen then plays back what you have written in a human voice. The FlyPen will also record music, and even create music. New software will be developed to extend its capabilities, I�m sure.

But as of now, you can make the FlyPen alert you to appointments, because it has a scheduler. You can use it to keep your contacts, because it has an address book. It tells you everything you need to know.

Because it is aimed at a youth market, it has a lot of other non-productivity related features, such as games and math help, word puzzles and other stuff of the sort that senior citizens use to ward off Alzheimer�s. I predict that�s the secondary market.

The FlyPen even has a calculator function. Indeed, if it only had a phone in it, I would trade in my Blackberry for a FlyPen, despite its age inappropriateness for me.

I suspect that one day it will have a phone, or phones will have FlyPens, and that there will be a significant share of the market that will prefer not to endure carpal tunnel, Blackberry thumb, and all the other repetitive motion injuries to which computing has made us vulnerable.

On second thought, did I tell you that I still have a big callous on my third finger from where I held the pen when I was in school?

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