Published on November 18th, 2005 | by Greg0
A Talking, Thinking Pen
The first time you use a Leapfrog Fly, it’s hard to believe that it works. Millions of dollars were spent on developing the pen that can talk, recognize handwriting, and play games- and the Fly is selling well, perhaps on target to become the biggest toy of this holiday season. Unfortunately, there is a reason that most people use a keyboard and mouse or a controller to play games or interact with a computer, and the Fly falls a little short of a revolution in toys.
The idea is pure science-fiction: make a pen that can see what people write, and have it communicate with them- correct their spelling, perhaps, to help teach them a foreign language, or allow them to keep notes.
For many people, it sounds like a PDA-replacement but it was developed with the valuable tween (8-13 year old) market in mind, and the limitations, language, and software are aimed at them. You can use it for a limited number of notes and appointments, it works as a simple calculator and clock, but where it shines is playing educational games- a favorite of ours asks you to draw some boxes, tapping on the boxes plays either a short selection of classical music or says a composer’s name, and the goal is to match all of the pairs.
There’s no doubt that the Fly is a pretty amazing piece of technology- it managed to recognize and properly pronounce most of the notes we wrote. And the ability to draw your own piano, then tap the keys with the pen to play the notes, is pretty cool. But it can’t keep your attention for long- the pen is pretty large and a little awkward to hold (especially for the students we asked to try it), and eventually the redrawing of boxes, circles, and checkmarks becomes tiresome.
Some of the limitations are overcome by the fact that you can purchase additional software (the language learning mentioned earlier is a separate cartridge and is only available in Spanish), and the new programs are easy to “install”- you just plugin the cartridge to the top of the pen. Ultimately though, the Leapfrog Fly is a neat gadget that serves as a reminder of it’s limitations- no spellcheck, no real way for more than one person to use it, and you’re forced to use special paper with microdots imprinted on it.