Cross Pen Computing Group, div. of A.T. Cross Co.Lincoln, R.I.

CrossPad

Despite the plethora of portable computers, the Cross Executive Communications Survey found that most executives prefer to take notes using the time-honored interaction of pen and paper. Still, most busy scribes -- whether executives, lawyers, journalists, or project managers -- want some way to organize, archive and distribute their handwritten notes, just as they do computer-generated documents. The new CrossPad is the Cross Pen Computing Group's answer to this dilemma. The world's first and only digital notepad, the CrossPad bridges the gap between paper and computer. Using a special pen to write upon a pad of 8 in.-by-11 in. paper secured to the digital notepad, users can capture up to 50 pages of notes, sketches, and diagrams in the CrossPad's memory -- 1 MB of flash ROM. A newer, smaller version -- the CrossPad XP (for extra portable) -- allows users to save 80 pages of notes from a 6 in.-by-9 in. pad of paper. These handwritten notes then can be uploaded within seconds to the user's PC by attaching a serial cable between the CrossPad and the PC and pressing a few buttons on the "dashboard" at the bottom of the CrossPad. Inside the PC, IBM's Ink Manager software will display the handwritten notes, which then can be filed, reorganized, faxed, e-mailed, or printed. The whole package is compatible with Windows 95, 98 and NT 4.0. Here's how it all works. Inside the pen -- which looks and handles pretty much like any other -- Cross engineers have tucked a tiny, low-power radio-frequency transmitter and a AAAA battery, with a redesigned, more compact ink source. As the user's hand moves the pen across the page, the pen transmits the movement to an x-y grid inside the CrossPad. The pad's microprocessor decodes each pen position into x-y coordinates and stores them in memory. Later, Ink Manager converts those coordinates into handwriting. According to Joseph Arruda, program manager of Cross's Pen Computing Group Development, recent increases in processor speed and memory have made this kind of calculation-intensive application available to the general public. "Five years ago, the mathematics of all this could be figured out but it was done on a supercomputer in a back room in a laboratory," Arruda says. "You need a lot of computing horsepower to process these mathematical algorithms and accurately convert all these digital x-y coordinates into ink." But all this has been made very simple for the user. To use the product effectively, users need only number each of their pages and press the "page-forward" or "page-back" buttons on the dashboard whenever they move from page to page, so that the CrossPad puts their notations on the correct page. The dashboard also features a simple mechanism that allows users to sort their uploaded notes later. Users can select a key word or phrase for later reference -- for instance, a supplier's name or the title of a project -- then circle it and press the "keyword" button. After they upload their notes, the software allows them to search and organize the new document for all notations including those key words. The software also will search by creation and upload dates. The Ink Manager software even allows users to e-mail their handwritten notes to others -- for instance, team members in remote locations -- who don't have the software, dispatching both the notes and a self-executing viewer so that recipients can read them. IBM also has released a software developer's kit that will enable users to create CrossPad forms and applications for use in the legal, medical, insurance, finance, and transportation industries, as well as government. In addition, Ink Manager can transcribe a certain amount of handwritten notes into ASCII text. However, success depends largely upon the neatness and regularity of the user's handwriting and whether he or she has taken the time to "train" the software to recognize their handwriting using several recommended exercises. Arruda says recognition can reach 90% or higher. "There's an investment of your time to achieve that," he says. "It can recognize chicken scratch, but you have to train [the software] to recognize it."

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