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Send Handwritten Messages via Mobile Phone

UPDATE: One of the next hot messaging technologies will involve ... a pen and paper.

Next Monday, four companies -- Vodafone, Sony Ericsson, 3M and Esselte -- will roll out the new Anoto technology that makes it possible to digitally transmit handwritten notes via e-mail, SMS, or fax. Users can also send a digital copy of a handwritten note directly to a computer.

A company called Anoto AB is licensing its intellectual property covering advanced pen and paper technology and associated services, to a wide variety of electronics manufacturers, paper producers and network operators.

Anoto functionality turns handwritten notes, doodles and sketches into a format that can be sent via digital technology. A person uses a special digital pen to sketch or write on regular paper. The pen does double duty here -- it produces a special pattern of dots that are also read by it. The pen then transmits what it picks up to a Bluetooth-enabled device, like a mobile phone, PDA, fax or Bluetooth card in a PC. A wireless phone can then send the message via SMS to another phone or a computer.

With Anoto, people can send handwritten memos, letters, directions, phone numbers, notes and most anything else that can be scribbled down on paper. In addition, people who don't use the QWERTY keyboard or English letters can send notes in their native language, like Chinese, Japanese, Russian or Arabic.

Special digital papers can be used as well that assign specific commands or functions to certain areas of the paper. This enables services such as retrieving information or placing an order directly from a mail-order catalogue, newspaper or magazine using the digital pen.

The technology will launch next Monday in Sweden. Vodafone will introduce Anoto in its package of Notera services, including e-mail, SMS and fax, via its general packet radio service (GPRS), a standard for wireless communications that runs at speeds up to 115 kilobits per second. Sony Ericsson, meantime, will introduce its first Chatpen digital pen, as well as a mobile phone with Bluetooth technology. 3M and Esselte, meantime, will supply digital paper products that have Anoto functionality.

Anoto is bringing together a network of partners from a range of industries that may not necessarily be used to working with one another -- the mobile phone industry, the traditional pen and paper industry, wireless network operators and software developers, among others. Anoto has established about 50 partnerships in Europe, U.S. and Asia.

Anoto has not officially said if or when its services will be available in the U.S. A company spokesperson said any market-launch decisions are actually made by the company's partners. Logitech, though, has said it will launch at the end of this year a digital pen that has Anoto functionality.

Anoto AB was founded in Lund, Sweden in late 1999 as a fully owned subsidiary of C Technologies AB, which develops technologies for digital cameras and image processing.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.