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A smartpen that lets you write on any surface

The best styluses by Microsoft (Surface), Samsung (Note) and Apple (Pencil) work only on screens. Photograph: (Others)

WION New Delhi, India Sep 05, 2016, 08.55 AM (IST) WION Edge
Imagine a smartpen that lets you write or draw things on any surface and export the same to your smart device.

The Phree, a smartpen that uses a 3D laser technology patented by US-based parent company OTM Technologies, was successfully crowdfunded in 2015, and since then it has been able to secure a good position in the stylus market.

WION Edge interviewed Co-CEO of OTM Technologies Dr Opher Kinrot to understand how a crowdfunding campaign helped the product stand out. Excerpts:

When did the initial idea for Phree come up?

When we developed our optical tracking technology – OTM (Optical Translation Measurement) – one of the first ideas that came to mind was using it to develop a digital pen that can be used anywhere. We have been using digital devices – computers, mobile phones– all our lives. Making the user interface natural and intuitive is something that is on our minds constantly.

How is the product technologically superior?

Phree is enabled by our OTM optical tracking sensor. This is the only sensor that gives accurate high-resolution motion tracking on any surface in three dimensions. The motion tracking during multi-stroke input – while crossing the ‘t’ and dotting the ‘i’ – allows natural use of Phree, similar to using a pencil pen.  

Phree Pen enables the user to write on any surface.

Is the technology patented?

Yes. The OTM technology is patented worldwide by a host of patents, some already granted.

“Who wants a stylus?” Steve Jobs mockingly asked while introducing the iPhone in 2007. However, your campaign has proved otherwise. How do you feel about it?

Steve Jobs was right in 2007, and the success of the iPhone, iPad and touch interface shows it.

However, our fingers have limitations, in the same way that you cannot compare ‘finger painting’ with fine details of a paintbrush and pencil. The dexterity one achieves by holding a tool with three fingers is unparalleled.

Apple themselves have recognised the need and came out with Apple Pencil in September 2015, only three months after the completion of our crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign.

How do you differentiate your product from the other products in the market?

No other product in the market provides what Phree does – writing anywhere and on any surface. The best styluses by Microsoft (Surface), Samsung (Note) and Apple (Pencil) work only on screens. In addition, Phree works with multiple devices. You can switch from your mobile phone to tablet, laptop and TV.

What should consumers know about stylus technology and other competitors before deciding to buy a stylus?

Consumers need to look at their usage scenarios, both 'where' and 'when' they want to use a stylus, whether their main use is on the go or in the office, sitting near their table or in meetings, with a single device or using multiple devices, etc. Phree is the only solution that lets you use a stylus anywhere and with any device - not limited by the screen size or location.

The usage of Phree Pen is not limited by location or screen size.

Are there any more plans for the future to make Phree stand out?

Phree will bring further usability with emerging virtual and augmented reality headsets, where touch input does not exist and there is no other accurate input device at present.

At what price point are you currently selling your product? 

We have pre-orders at $198. Once we start shipping, the price will go up to around $230.

We feel this product is geared more towards the professional user rather than the general user. What are your thoughts?

We see professionals as part of the first users of Phree – including architects, designers, lawyers, doctors – people who gain by the ability to easily and quickly markup documents. We also see Phree as being geared to the general user like students and creatives for annotating notes in class, jotting down an idea anywhere and free sketching on the go. General users especially benefit in countries where keyboard use is limiting the input with many characters in the alphabet. Examples of languages that will greatly benefit from handwriting input with Phree are Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Arabic, etc.

Do you feel this product has more potential and can have a next generation? If so, what all changes will be made?

This product has the potential to become the preferred input method for VR/AR – the ‘mouse’ for virtual reality interaction. In addition, there is a large potential in education and of course as a mobile input device turning the mobile phone into a work station. Future versions may be specifically geared to these markets.

(WION Edge with inputs from Karanveer Singh Arora, Ashna Mishra) 
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