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April 11 2012


My review of the Cregle iPen

As soon as i saw the iPen project on kickstarter, it was clear to me that i need one, so i supported the pen right away. It was my first kickstarter project, and i was quite excited when the package finally arrived, after month of waiting due to the Apple certification process for accessories. Would the pen be able to hold up with my expectations? 

Turns out: yes and no. It's better than expected, worse than hoped for. With this review (as you might have noticed already, i don't write many reviews) i want to explain this position. 

Executive summary

More than anything else, the iPen is a promise. It shows the potential of having a high-resolution pen digitizer with the iPad. It transforms the iPad into a serious work machine, one that i would not want to miss in my daily routine. As it is, the handling of the iPen as well as it's limitations make sure that the iPen shows this potential more than it can actually deliver on it's promise. In the end, i crave an iPad with a built-in precision pen digitizer. 

Still, for someone willing and able to cope with these limitations (which i will describe below), the iPen is posed to become a indispensable addition to the iPad. 

What is the iPen

The iPen is not one of these general-purpose iPad pens that mimic the capacitative qualities of the human finger. Instead, it uses it´s own digitizer that has to be plugged into the dock connector port and protudes a little above the surface of the iPad. The pen itself is an active, battery powered device that sends out (according to the web site) ultrasonic and infrared signals so that the digitizer plugged into the iPad can determine it's location on the screen. Because it is more or less impossible to write »drivers« for iOS devices, the position sensing works only in Apps that make use of Cregles iPen API. 

Developers who want their Apps to use the iPen have to incorporate the necessary libraries and calls into their Apps, and they have to change the Apps so that it works with the iPens slightly different interaction model. This means mainly discerning between finger input and pen input, but also eg. offering a possiblity to calibrate the pen. 

To this end, it's unclear whether the iPen will see widespread support by App developers. As i was writing this review, six Apps have a version available that supports the iPen, with five more apps promising to be released with an appropriate version in the near future (according to So far, i've only been using the iPen with the free version of GoodNotes, which is basically a rather simple sketchbook app. My favourite sketching app, Noteshelf, is on the »promised«-list, so i'll hold out for it. 

The good

As soon as i started using the iPen (after the obligatory calibration), it became clear that the resultion and tracking speed of this device is far superior to anything the built-in multitouch sensor of the iPad can offer. There is a noticable delay between writing and appearance on screen. At the moment, i cannot say whether its the result of sluggish App refresh, or if the process of getting the tracking data to the App just takes too long. The fascinating fact is that this delay does not result in data being lost, and subsequently being substituted by interpolation. The line that is drawn after a short delay mimics the movements i've executed quite precisely, and while it does take some time for the line to appear, it is exactly where it should be. 

This means that producing any fine structures in drawing simply works. Handwriting works. A quickly drawn rectangle does not turn out to be a rounded rectangle. Cross-hatching is possible. You can start a line exactly where it meets the other line. That alone is a truely awesome experience, and i have filled pages and pages with idle doodles and nice sketches just probing this potential. 

One more goodie: once the software starts discerning between finger input and pen input, you can actually rest your hand on the screen. This is liberating for anyone who has used a capacitative pen, and it allows you to really sketch and draw in a natural way. Minor complaint here: you have to turn off the beloved four-finger swipes ("multi-tasking gestures" - Apple should let Apps disable them, so that the user does not have to). 

My verdict: more than worth the money, this is a game-changing experience, and i want more of it. If you stop reading this review now, take with you that a high-def pen digitizer is something the iPad really really needs. Let's hope Apple hears this. 

The bad^H^H^H less good

Unfortunately, this awesomeness comes at a price, a price that is ultimately connected to the technology chosen. It probably starts here: as far as i can judge, the part of the pen tracked is not the tip of the pen itself, it's the part that looks like a cage approx. 5mm above the tip. This means that the pen is extremely sensitive to tipping and tilting. If you hand the pen to somebody else (who will most likely hold it differently than you), she will experience a less-than-stellar performance with the line being drawn a couple of mm besides the tip of the pen. But even a single person ofthen has multiple different pen positions for sketching and drawing (eg. different for drawing long horizontal or vertical lines, or while crosshatching different directions), and this breaks the iPen digitizing precision. Also, sometimes i want to rotate the iPad like a piece of paper while sketching. All these things are a no-go, as the tilt of the pen has essentially to be stable all the time. 

A minor quibble is that the digitizer is attached to the dock connector port. This means that i usually have to use the iPad upside down, which positions the home-button on the top border of the iPad. In landscape mode, the home button ends up on the left side of the iPad for a righty like me, which is the opposite of my usual orientation. Also, as the home button is where the digitizer is, every so often i inadvertendly touch the digitizer, tilting it just slightly towards the case on one side. Due to the nature of interpolation, this introduces a noticable error on the far end of the digitizer range. This would have been avoidable: two little rubber dots could stabilize the tilt of the attached digitizer - a solution that everybody can attach for himself. 

Finally, it's not built-in. You have to carry around one more piece of technology. While Cregle does ship the iPen with a nice bag for both the pen and the digitizer, it ends up being something that i don't have with me every now and then. This once again drives home the point that the high resolution pen digitizer is something that has do be built into the device. This would also solve the other quibbles i have with the iPen. Unfortunately, this is not something Cregle can do. 


The iPen is awesome when it works. It requires some getting-used-to, so it's hard to demo to somebody, which in turn makes it hard to sell. It has become an integral part of how i use the iPad, and makes me want for more. I want Apple to produce an iPad with built-in hires pen digitizer. 

For the time being, i will not part with the iPen. I find myself using GoodNote a lot, and I can see the iPen becoming part of my daily work as soon as it is supported by the Apps I love and use daily (NoteShelf, PDF Expert. DrawSomething would be also be nice :). I can live with the drawbacks, but i know i'm an early adopter who has done that a lot of times (Tpin Dibbaert!). Thank you Cregle for making an awesome product, especially as it demonstrates a whole new side of the iPad. 

October 12 2011

designsituation, teil 2 (reaktion auf die vorschläge per twitter):

- spiegel sind leider unmöglich, u.a. wg. der art, wie die tür aufgeht, aber auch, weil das fluchtwege gefährden würde
- ggüber des neuen eingangs ist der bibliotheks/meetingraum
- der wechselseitige "facetime"-vorschlag gefällt mir noch am besten. 
- eine andere idee wäre der "spion", also so ein guckloch in der tür mit weitwinkel, nur digital, und wenn wer läutet oder die tür öffnet (je nach modus), dann machts ein foto. 
Tags: notweet

June 08 2011

April 24 2011


SAD - Surveillance Awareness Database

Surveillance Awareness Database is an online participatory social media/art project with a political impact. SAD is mobile app and a social media web site. The project plays with different forms of monitoring - external surveillance via CCTVs, the sousveillance potential, and the voluntary self surveillance via social software.

Everyone with a mobile phone can participate by documenting encounters with CCTV cameras, but will at the same time breach her own privacy by the necessary disclosure of her whereabouts. On the SAD web site, users can find all documented CCTV cameras on map (or as a list), and add or edit camera information there as well as via the mobile app.

SAD Users embark on a tightrope walk between the deliberate exposure of technologically enabled privacy intrustion and the often inconsiderate neglect of privacy typical for social software. SAD reinforces this by using game mechanics to playfully entice users to contribute more information about encountered cameras - as well as about themselves.

To this end, SAD awards scores, badges and achievements to active users, calculates ratings, and compiles hall-of-fame-lists. Additionally, a corresponding game forum is offered where users can discuss and devleop games that could be played using SAD as an online platform, eg. by defining their own goals and badges.

Other areas on the web site include a blog section, where information about surveillance, surveillance technologies, art projects and resistance movements against surveillance is collected, and seperate sections to post routes (daily pathways of least or of maximum surveillance) and stories (experienced during documenting CCTV surveillance). Also, we have a number of very exciting plans for future enhancements. Stay tuned!

It is planned to organize a yearly "Surveillance Awareness Day", where activists all over the world are asked to document or tag every camera they encounter during that day. Such an initiative would be visible world wide not only via the SAD web page, but also on social networks such as facebook or twitter.

You can find SAD at
Tags: notweet
Reposted bypsygate psygate
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