Computers are great for storing and sharing information but sometimes the easiest way to get the point across is the old physical medium of pen and paper.
The problem with taking notes that way makes it hard to share with a group, and if you write on a whiteboard it can be a challenge to get an accurate copy of those notes saved. Also with the whiteboard if you need to mark up an existing document it can be tough to see.
Papershow has an answer to the problem. It combines the flexibility and ease of use of pen and paper with your computer to let you utilize a natural input medium, mark up documents but share them with other users and even project the changes live in a meeting.
The technology in the pen is however not quite the same as a disposable sharpie!
Similar to how the Pulse pen works the supplied paper contains a nearly invisible pattern of dots which allows the infra-red camera in the pen body to identify where you are on the page and transmit that information back to the the PC.
The connection back to the PC is wire-free. The kit comes complete with a USB Key that doubles as both as a Bluetooth dongle and storage for the application (it runs right off the key, no need for an installation so you can use it on any Windows XP or Vista computer).
The dot pattern on the paper is unique so it knows when you switch to a new page, and because the pen positioning is very precise they are able to print a small menu on each page that allows you to select what color the pen "writes" in on-screen, how thick the line should be and even assist you draw perfect circles or rectangles or arrows to annotate your drawings.
You can even print on the paper so you can see the actual document you're marking up while you project it on-screen.
The pen is amazingly responsive and works in very varied lighting conditions. Though it's sold as a business tool to liven up meetings I've had a couple of artists say great things about it.
Once you've finished a session you can export it as a PDF or Powerpoint. There doesn't seem to be an option to export as GIF/PNG/JPG or automatically upload to a sharing site though these seem like things that would come with a simple software release.
One feature I'd love to see if the ability to pair multiple pens with a single machine so you can record who writes what in a session, and also have a shared whiteboard version of the app so people in different locations can see the notes and annotations as they are drawn (and know who wrote them) and also contribute remotely.
With any first release you expect some rough edges but this is pretty solid. Although it works fine with WinXP and Vista I did have some issues getting it to work on Win7 Beta - the trick is to set it to run as Administrator and in Vista SP2 Compatibility mode (in the applications settings).
There is no OSX version yet, though Mac users shouldn't despair as they say that there's a version coming.
The other hiccup I found was that you have to use the Bluetooth dongle. If you already have a laptop with built-in Bluetooth you need to be able to disable it (if all else fails Device Manager in Control Panel will let you disable the driver for your Bluetooth) - I hope they work out a solution to coexist automatically to save fiddling around.
I've been using the Lightscribe Pulse pen for a while now and while it's great for disconnected use when I'm away from the PC the lack of live capabilities has bugged me so I can see a real use for the Papershow system. The Papershow pen also seems to work better in uneven lighting conditions.
In an ideal world I'd love a system that combines both - offline note taking and storage with a cradle to re-charge and sync and an online mode where the pen connects via Bluetooth and can be used to drive a meeting (and use the same paper in both modes of course).
For now - the Pulse pen will live in my bag, and my Papershow pen will come with me to meetings where I know there will be a PC to project from.
Oh, and you can buy from www.shoppapershow.com or online from Staples A complete kit (pen, printer and flipchart paper, USB key, software, ring binder and pencil case) costs $199