LeapFrog, the manufacturer of children's educational toys, was one of the first companies to offer a digital pen. The LeapFrog FLY Pentop Computer used special paper developed by Anoto, just as other LeapFrog toys do. Although it was designed for children, the product was the predecessor to Livescribe's Echo Smartpen and the Pulse Smartpen.
Entrepreneur and inventor Jim Marggraff, who helped develop LeapFrog's FLY, also founded Livescribe. The FLY is now a discontinued product, but some vendors still sell FLY apps and refill catridges for FLY owners. It helps young students with their homework. It includes apps such as a Spanish tutor, which verbally translates into Spanish words that students write on the special paper. The product also converts hand-written essays into digital text so students can more easily submit typed papers to their teachers. In addition, the pen doubles as entertainment with both built-in games (such as a piano function). Additional apps that can be purchased include a Harry Potter-themed game. Students can even download their own music to the pen, which also dubs as an MP3 player.
When Jim Marggraff first joined LeapFrog in 1999, he brought with him the Odyssey Globe that, when touched with a special stylus, said the name of the country it was pointed to. The stylus sparked a tiny circuit inside the globe that emitted a radio-frequency signal. Then, acting as an antenna, the stylus "spoke" the name of the respective country, helping children to learn geography.
LeapPad was based on a similar kind of technology except on a flat surface. A child could place special papers on the pad, and the stylus could "read" the words the child was pointing to. Up against toy company giants Mattel and Hasbro, LeapFrog knew that no matter how sophisticated their product, LeapPad had to quickly capture children's attention and maintain it in order for the product to be a success. And it was. In December 2000, it was named the top-selling toy in the United States. LeapFrog went public in 2002 and was named the best performing IPO of that year a whopping 93 percent growth. As a result, the company became the third-largest toy company in the United States.
LeapFrog's FLY enhanced the activities of older children using the same philosophy of the company's other products: it is a toy in its shape but an educational product in its soul. The company's products assist parents who want to get an early start on their children's reading and math comprehension by making learning fun. And despite the FLY's sophistication, its technology was practically invisible. The FLY used Anoto-brand paper, which consists of a tiny dot pattern. The pattern works as a kind of code that tells a camera inside the pen where it is on the page. It can also include icons that can turn on recorded messages or other functions inside the pen.
The success of LeapFrog's FLY Pentop Computer among children is likely what enlightened Marggraff to introduce a more powerful version of the technology to business people and college students in the form of Livescribe's Smartpen, which now includes a microphone and a recording device, among other features. Digital pens such as this are providing professionals and students alike with tools that digitize their hand-written words for easy documentation and dissemination.
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