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iSketchnote: an iPad Cover That Digitizes Your Paper Scribbles

By Patrick Nelson
Sep 18, 2013 5:00 AM PT

There's no denying the popularity of Apple's iPad and its Android-based kin, not just with adults but with kids as well. Now, for all those parents out there who wish their kids would play with something else once in a while -- simple drawing paper and pens, for instance -- a new Kickstarter funding project offers fresh hope.

iSketchnote: an iPad Cover That Digitizes Your Paper Scribbles


Enter iSketchnote, a new effort that promises to bring sketch functionality to Apple's tablet. By no means just for kids, the technology is suitable for adults' sketches and for note-taking as well.

Drawing on a portable device screen has always been a cumbersome, laggy experience. iSketchnote creator ISKN Team reckons it's got a solution.

What Is It?

The prototype device uses a sensor matrix built into an adjacent iPad cover. Regular sheets of paper overlay the sensor, somewhat like a pad of paper in an executive writing portfolio.

The user makes doodles, notes or sketches on the paper normally, with an almost-normal pen. The sensor reads the classically drawn image created and re-creates it on the iPad in real time. Tagline: "From pen and paper to your iPad!"

Technical Details

The ballpoint and felt pens have no battery or electronics, and simply use a permanent magnet ring for identification of nib and color, which the matrix recognizes.

The digitizer uses its own chip: a STM32 microcontroller F4 series running at a 168MHz clock frequency. ISKN says connectivity will ultimately be Bluetooth, although this element of the project is not yet developed -- currently it uses USB.

A 4GB SD card can hold 100 pages, so the matrix can be used separately from the iPad. Latency is 50 ms. An API is available.

The Numbers

ISKN Team, a company founded by members of French microelectronics institute LETI, currently has more than 1,000 backers who are pledging US$127,106 of a $35,000 goal on Kickstarter. Its goal is funded, in other words, with some three weeks still to go.

A pledge of $29 gets you the pen, while $149 gets you a complete iSketchnote pack with three pens. Pledges of $499 allow you to become part of the development process including testing betas and co-designing apps.

The estimated shipping date is May 2014.

The Upsides

TechNewsWorld thinks the system has a significant advantage over standard digitizers -- the digitizer is the glass sandwich often called the touchscreen -- in that the electronics are designed for purpose rather than a compromised hacking of a touchscreen, as has been the case with previous like-minded products.

We like all of the features, including the obvious knee-top sketching and iPad-less functionality.

The Downsides

This product needs to be robust and can't just be a set of super-smart electronics in a pretty leather portfolio. We would like to see some mock-ups and serious development going into a bomb-proof, silicone outer-layered, polycarbonate precision shell next -- and not just renderings.

Having said that, ISKN Team are clearly taking this project seriously, and according to the project materials, they have a formidable and experienced team in place.

Our initial concerns that $35,000 in funding wasn't going to be enough is alleviated by massive interest in this product and resulting excess pledges from backers.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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