We talk to Livescribe's senior marketing director and UK GM

Get smart

The ‘smartpen’ category is one that’s relatively unknown in the UK presently. Could you explain what the idea is exactly, and the technology behind it?

Eric Petitt (senior marketing director): A smartpen combines all four modes of communication – reading, writing, speaking and listening – in the simple, low cost, and convenient format of pen and paper. In contrast to digital pens – which are essentially PC peripherals that copy digital notes to a computer – a smartpen is a fully multi-modal, computer-in-a-pen.

In the case of taking notes during a discussion or lecture, the smartpen records the conversation and digitises the handwriting, automatically syncing the ink and audio. By later tapping the ink, the smartpen replays the conversation from the exact moment the note was written.

Notes and audio can also be uploaded to a computer where they can be replayed, saved, searched and sent, so users never miss a word. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are additional applications on the smartpen too. For example, you can draw a piano that plays music or tap on a printed calculator to solve financial equations), and more will become available for download as our app store launches in Q4.

The Pulse smartpen is essentially a computer in a pen, and uses a sophisticated dot positioning system (DPS) to capture and synchronise audio with handwritten notes, to provide immediate access and recall with a simple tap on the paper. The dot paper effectively acts like a computer screen.

Where does it sit as a product category between things such as netbooks and smartphones? What gap in the market do smartpens fill?

EP: We’ve created an entirely new category. The need is totally different. Pulse addresses the problem of information overload, for any student or professional who spends considerable time in classes, lectures, meetings or interviews. Pulse captures the dialogue – both written and spoken – and makes it easily accessible, both through the pen and the desktop application, or via the web, enabling ‘total recall’ on the part of the user.

The net impact we’ve seen for a smartpen user is a more efficient, effective, productive and more successful student or business professional. A great source of unfiltered customer feedback is available on Apple.com – go to the store page, scroll down to ‘staff picks’, and click on the Pulse smartpen to see reviews. We launched with Apple a few weeks back and tripled its ‘best case’ sell-through expectations so far. Also, check Amazon.com, and Facebook.com/Livescribe to hear what our users have to say.

Livescribe has already been around for some time in other territories – what has the reception been like there?

EP: In the US, Pulse (along with dot paper and accessories) is available at Target, Best Buy, Amazon.com, Livescribe.com, Apple.com, Staples, and select college bookstores. Livescribe’s launch at US and Australian retail greatly exceeded partner expectations – we’re proud to be moving to a featured location at the front of the store in all Best Buy locations in the United States in October, and continue to see better than expected sell-through with our partners.

In a recent US national survey of 5801 registered Pulse smartpen users, 74.5 per cent said they were very likely to continue using it, 92 per cent have demoed the pen to a friend, while 73 per cent said “Pulse has changed my life”.

We also got a 54.2 net promoter score (recommenders minus detractors) – this puts us in an elite group of brands, alongside Apple and Southwest Airlines.

How big do you think the category as a whole will become in the UK?

EP: As the category evolves, our vision is that in five years every student, professional, journalist and teacher will have access to a smartpen. Why use a ‘dumb’ pen when you can have a smartpen to help you better capture, access and share important information in your day?

What is the target demographic for these products?

EP: University students are a key audience, because keeping track of their classroom lectures and discussions is so critical to success in school. A broad set of mobile professionals across multiple industries (such as journalists, lawyers and legal aides, salespersons, consultants, educators, and many other professionals) who spend much of their time in situations like meetings, lectures and interviews make up the other half of our users.

Are you expecting the products to be a big hit this Christmas, or will it take them a little longer to bed into the UK market?

Simon Lee (UK GM):
Since the official UK launch in August, interest has been high and is gathering momentum. Over the coming weeks our PR and marketing initiatives will generate considerable consumer awareness this autumn. We anticipate broad distribution both in-store and online ready for a Christmas sales drive.

Have you signed any deals with retail as yet in the UK?

SL: The product is currently available at Amazon, Micro Anvika, So Connected, Harrods and Selfridges. These is a great deal of interest from retail buyers and we will have a wider retail presence over the coming weeks.

Will you be planning any marketing to make the consumer and the channel aware of the new category?

EP: We’ve secured Edelman as our PR and marketing agency in the UK, and have a number of exciting activities in the works for the Christmas period to drive awareness of this category.

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