In the concept reinvented category, Ricoh has created a complete solution around a new device called eQuill. According to the company, "…it functions as a digital clipboard… and eliminates paper-borne processes from the workflow, such as forms setup, photocopying, scanning, archiving, paper disposal and more." The system comes with pre-populated forms, supports gesture and handwriting recognition, and signature capture/authentication based on biometric (stroke) input from the pen.
The eQuill will sell for under $500 with the workflow business-class service offered for $30/month. eQuill connects to its workflow services via WiFi or even 3G, enabling information capture "…relayed from the furthest endpoint to the central enterprise server ? and back again ? with minimal time and effort." Key application targets include healthcare, document management, credit and insurance claim processing, home and business audits and inspections, civil and police reporting, and more vertical markets.
All this sounds vaguely familiar. Remember the first tablet era, sometimes known as the Pen PC, where the killer application was supposed to be handwriting recognition? It was kick-started with a revolutionary new device known as the AT&T GO, and a new pen-based operating system called PenPoint. It used gestures on the screen, flicks of the pen to control the device, and could translate your handwriting into text for the coming age of e-mail communication-and the pen and handwriting recognition were at the center of it all.
The Apple Newton, was of this vintage and Windows for Pen computing OS opened up a plethora of pen enabled mobile devices that launched in 1992 and beyond. But it was not to be, the pen tablet era died, or at least retreated to market niches far away from the mainstream.
Some say it was the inability to successfully deliver on the promise of handwriting recognition that killed the tablet revolution of the early 1990’s. For even with a 90% accuracy rate, you were still correcting ten words for every 100 of written input. This became an intolerable nuisance, even the source of lampooning from Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury comic strip, and ultimately failed to win mainstream adoption.
Interestingly enough, Steve Jobs was around for both tablet revolutions, and was careful not to over hype, or over promise what the iPad would deliver. It was perhaps that first attempt that drove him and the company to achieve excellence and pinpoint focus on what the iPad would and could bring to users-and perhaps why the iPad to this day, doesn’t support a pen.
But the hope of bringing back the pen and handwriting recognition lives on, perhaps because the promise of the paperless office is so compelling. What may be a bit different this time around is the focus on vertical markets and not consumers.
Here’s how Takashi Totsuka, general manager, Ricoh EWS-Global (short for e-Writer Solutions a new division at the company): "Our mission is to address technology gaps in the digital workflow by replacing paper-based writing solutions with efficient digital alternatives. In so doing, we increase our customers’ productivity while reducing their paper costs and carbon footprint significantly. Given the ongoing demand for paperless workflow solutions, we expect this business to save our global customers billions-of-dollars in cost and to win Ricoh and its selling partners billions-of-dollars in revenue."
It’s an interesting play. The popularity of EBRs and tablets combined with the workflow enhancements that digital capture makes for a compelling case for business and enterprise computing. Of course we thought that the last time around so there is nothing left to say but, it really is yesterday once more… - Steve Sechrist