Livescribe Shuts Down Developer Program

[Kelly] sent in a tip saying that Livescribe, the company behind a remarkable smartpen able to record handwriting, was shuttering the developer program by taking down their dev forums and removing the SDK, taking away the ability to write custom apps. [Kelly] posted about this on her blog.

Livescribe has a thriving community around it and the pens themselves have had some incredible hacks, like Zork played on an Echo smartpen.

Livescribe’s official reason for shutting down the development program is to concentrate on, “cloud access, storage and services.” While we’re still wondering why Livescribe would sideline the developers that give a platform more functionality, it’s astonishing that a company would take down the SDK and delete the dev forums of their own product.

Although the largest Livescribe development and hacking forum has been shut down, we fully expect an independent forum to pop up within the week. We’ll be sure to post a link to that forum when we get word of it. If you know where the new forum is, be sure to send it into the tip line.

35 thoughts on “Livescribe Shuts Down Developer Program

  1. why? cause companies die by force when they don’t cover costs..who here had one?

    I work in software, I know all about the general public wondering how no-return affects your company..people who aren’t even ‘in the game’ have it all figured out though..

  2. I don’t think its so much a money issue (we can’t affort to support the community, please support yourselves) as it is a (we losing our f*king asses on software and game opportunities by having all these close minded, shitty developers coming up, or not coming up, with ideas to support our hardwar product)

    Livescribe: we’re sorry we cannot continue to support the maintenance and monitoring of our independent developer community. As such, we have turned over our forums to (Hackaday, makezize, instructables, etc) and are no longer supporting, nor will continue development on the public SDK.

    This is a lot different in tone from

    Screw you guys. I’m going home. and I’m taking my ball.

  3. xorpunk: I think you called it; I’ve never even known anyone who knew anyone who had one, and I have been asking because I’m interested in the idea even if it does strike me as probable that “pen computing” will never be anything other than an awful hack with a terrible user interface.

    teabaggs: I realize there are a lot of people who are putting their emotions into this, the same way there were over (for example) TI telling hobbyists they could either quit reversing the units’ encryption keys or get the fuck out entirely. But there’s no reason to do so. There’s no spite or malice coming from Livescribe, at least not where anyone can see it; the strong impression I get, given their statement and especially given the times, is that this is what the company is doing because it’s either this, or go out of business entirely — and what good would that do the developer community?

    Could they have done it more gracefully? Of course they could have. But given that their entire product line is aimed at what is at best a niche market — I doubt they intended that, but that’s how it’s turned out — I have a sneaking suspicion that, by this point, they’re getting pretty damn desperate to avoid a situation in which they’ll be forced out of business no matter what they do. It’s a shame that this is the only way out they see, but I don’t blame them for doing it if they feel they have to, especially in these times. I hope it works out for them the way they need it to.

    (And you should too! Because if it does, then maybe they’ll get to a point where they’re flush enough again to reinstate their SDK and developer program. No guarantee it’ll happen, of course…but if the company goes out of business, that’ll certainly guarantee that it *won’t*.)

  4. I’d put one up today but I’ve gotta goto work and if I pay for a domain now we’ll… it’ll end up we have 3-4 forums and the one done first wins… so….. yeh…

    If theres no word by sunday perhaps but I’m sure a new one will be up today if anyone’s ambitious

  5. All I can say, is try your own philosophy and logistics on your own company and see how long you last..If it was easy there wouldn’t be a fortune 500..

    I see electronics and software companies tank at least a couple dozen per-year do to no-return or not enough return in one way or another. If not enough people buy your product..get can’t make anymore or fully support it.

  6. I’m a little confused about something though, how does having people develop their own applications for your product reduce sails? Or is this a return on investment thing?

  7. xorpunk is right. I know ONE person that owns one of those pens, and he’s a comp sci major; he just bought it because he thought it was cool. I’m friends with a lot of journalism majors (the target demographic, I would think) and none of them own one.

  8. So here my philosophy then:
    take down the forums. kill the SDK. concentrate on “cloud access, storage and services” and create a livescribe marketplace, similar to app store or android market. reopen forums and SDK. make some money on developer fees and % of sales from marketplace same as the aforementioned dev communities.

    One problem with the livescribe is that there is no place for ads on the device unless it injects some ad in the digital copy of your work or something like that.

    The other problem with livescribe is that IMO it will die anyway because while it is incredibly neat technology, it exits in niche market. And i suspect the market for a digital pen will continue shrinking as the market for tablets and handhelds grows.

    I guess we’ll wait and see how livescribe fairs. In any case, I’m sure we’ll see someone posting a homebrew sdk in less than a month. If we do I think that bodes well for the company since it means there is enough interest in development to warrant it which means that there is a market for the software. They just need to figure out how to be the ones in charge of it.

  9. teabaggs: Sure, if they want to kill it and everything it might do for their product. The reason you release an SDK is because you want people who buy your product to give other people *more* reasons to buy your product.

    You don’t do it out of the goodness of your heart, or out of ideological commitment to open source or to some vague notion of “community”. You do it because you know people are going to look at your product in a store, say “huh that’s neat but what would I do with it?”, and keep on walking. That’s what happens when you invent a completely new form of user interface in this day and age, and in the absence of a pre-existing niche for it, the best you can do is hope it takes off so well among geeks and hackers that they’ll write a bunch of software for it which will then give those “but what would I do with it?” people an answer that’ll convince them to buy the damn thing.

    If that’s what you need out of your hobbyist community, the *last* thing you want to do is try to exert tight control over them, to “be in charge”, because there’s few better ways to drive off the very people you need to make your product worth the purchase.

    Speaking of said community, the more I think about it, the less sympathy I’m finding I have with them. It’s like with Minidiscs; all you need to do is look for a minute at the company behind the technology and you can see perfectly well it’s doomed — in Sony’s case because they’ve been chasing that “world’s only media format” lightning for thirty years and haven’t caught it since, and in Lightscribe’s case because there just isn’t a wide market for a big blobby pen that doesn’t fit in your pocket well and doesn’t seem on the face of it to do a whole lot other than transcribe your notes for you. I certainly can understand the appeal of technology that’s neat for its own sake, but if you’re going to get really serious about something, it’d well behoove you first to consider the chance of it still being around in five years.

  10. @Hungry_Myst: You know a way to manufacture material assets without money for materials and operations? Please do tell :)

    You could save the product with your wisdom xD

    **This is almost as thick as people who think putting digital copies of a software(piracy) on a free market(warez scene) doesn’t affect the vendors who made it..Go run a software company, or any type of company and see how long you last when the product you invested time and money in is distributed free..

    Money off support and loyal users? riiiggghhtt..lets see it oh wise one

  11. Interesting device. I had not really noticed them before but a local store has them on special offer at the moment so I am tempted to pick one up.

    Reading the bitter comments on here, running a good forum and dev programme requires lots of dev and moderator time not just the hosting fees. If the company is on the edge, shutting it down would be a quick way to be able to loose some headcount. (Had direct experience of that one.)

    @xorpunk: regarding Warez, it only really matters if your customers don’t care about being licensed, in which case they probably don’t have the money to spend anyway. Case in point Microsoft’s major products have always been available this way and up until about WinXP sp2, they did almost nothing at all to mitigate it. You can’t seriously suggest this strategy has hurt them at all?

  12. @nes: Case in point: your point is flawed..MS software is OEM software and has been since the 80s..

    I’m a senior level software engineer at a major studio, if we just make a little over the investment we literally can’t afford to do another project.

    The same applies to *any* business, if you think I’m off on this feel free to prove me wrong by managing a business that doesn’t tank under your logistics..

  13. i don’t have a livescribe, i don’t know anybody who has one, but its quite an interesting bit of tech to be fair. looks very expensive for what it is though, and you have to keep buying the special paper. i can’t see anybody buying one for well over £100. i don’t see how it can compete with the age-old tradition of writing on bits of paper (and remembering anything important!). if i needed to really digitise writing, i’d get a cheap tablet for about £20. livescribe is a solution for a problem that didn’t exist.

    I agree with some of the commenters here who can’t see how removing any SDK will actually sell more hardware units, and I imagine thats what’s killing their company at the moment.

    Perhaps they are re-gearing some of the underlying tech to use in another product and want to shut off any IP leak. These companies move on, if something isn’t making money, get rid of it and use what you can elsewhere (and good luck to them!).

  14. @xorpunk: guess we have to agree to disagree in that case.

    Like I say it probably depends very much on your target demographic. If your business is business software (as mine is), then the sort of customers you want just aren’t daft enough to risk doing business on ripped off software (unless they are located somewhere the authorities turn a blind eye). Everything I’ve worked on until now has turned up cracked as a torrent or on usenet. We’ve been going since 1981 and are still healthy.

    On the other hand, if you’re developing games, say, then it probably matters a great deal more.

    If you’re developing a digital pen, I’m not sure how this would affect you at all.

  15. @nes
    You make quite valid points. Being around software a lot and writing a fair bit, I very much agree that it depends on your end product.

    Take Adobe for example – Everything of theirs is pirated and available online; However, I know the last two companies I have worked for have purchased at least $30,000 in software from them. Buying up Macromedia makes me think that they’re not hurting too badly from piracy either.

    Now lets take the android platform as a whole. The users have a free SDK and can create/publish (free) software that others can install without any piracy. This value-adds to the platform and the developer doesn’t have to pay for that service. Yet android still survives — because it still solves the problem of creating your own device-specific OS. [twopartepoxy] nailed it when he said livescribe solved a problem that didn’t exist, the other companies mentioned all do an exceptional job of solving problems that did exist.

  16. In some dimension I’m sure free distribution of a software that costs millions to develop ‘doesn’t hurt’..unfortunately in the real world, if you’re not an OEM licensee, or OEM licensee+Owner of the worlds leading raster graphics software, that logic will have you on the fast track to sleeping under a bridge..***feel free to go and prove me wrong ^^***

  17. Just for the record. I do have a livescribe. Several of my friends and past co-workers have livescribes. They were invaluable for professional services consulting teams. A single team member could record notes / meetings and post them back to the client wiki so that any future on site consultant could refer to notes via OCR’ed searchable text / date of recordings / or even voice . Also hand sketched diagrams and the sort would also be available. I mean… it was and is an incredibly useful tool in some areas of business. the biggest issue with them is that you can’t stop them from recording audio and that means you need everyone to know you ARE recording audio when it’s on.

    That being said… I’ve seen several of the major hacks for these pens. One of the areas the pens saw heavy use … was as a peripheral for blind people. A keyboard can be a daunting instrument for a blind person… but a pen that can provide voice feedback is not. Not to mention it could be used to literally sketch new interfaces.

    The loss of the SDK for this pen is going to hurt a lot of people who simply aren’t target market for livescribe. They are just people benefiting from the technology existing. Without free/opensource maintainers many projects literally cannot exist.

    But aside from that lamentable woe, the reality is the way in which livescribe completely pulled an about face without any notice to developers on their product is utterly galling. It is a betrayal of the trust of people who had invested time, money, and expertise in their product. And as a company their image is now permanently tarnished. This will impact them.

  18. I just bought one. They’ve been out for about four years, but I just got one a couple of weeks ago and I LOVE IT! (Engineer/inventor) Only to find out the paper isn’t available in B&M much anymore, only online. Amazon’s doing a great business selling these things. Livescribe+Evernote is a wonder to behold. Some things, like sketches and math problems are simply not easy to do on a computer…yes, I’ve owned MathCad since the 80s and it is still easier to work on paper. Livescribe is simply the best tool in the world when it comes to capturing interviews and listening to voice mail (record from speakerphone while jotting notes). Niche maybe, but lots and lots of stuff is still captured with pen and paper. Try leaving a note on someone’s door with a tablet/pda. My last speeding ticket was on paper too. The only thing that makes Livescribe a niche is poor marketing.

  19. I have version 1.4 – but the license precludes me from redistributing it. If someone can get LiveScribe to release me (us) from the license restrictions, I’m happy to make it available.

  20. The comments here are so sadly uninformed- yet righteous! Like the other Livescribe owners posting here- I also fell in love with the thing and its potential immediately. The pen completely and painlessly transforms my historically useless jumping scribble during lectures, meetings, interviews, voicemail (great suggestion, above) into a completely automatic graphic map of the original sound stream. Suddenly, my shorthand WORKS- a tap on some mystery symbol of forgotten importance can now replay exactly what I was hearing when I wrote it- and I can also skip back to find out why I needed to draw the mark. I can finally pay attention to audio CONTENT rather than forcing myself to speed illegible attempts to capture everything- at the COST of the content of interest. The market for the pen is EVERYONE who gets tired of writing too much and then remembering too little. (Audio recording is also very easy to stop and start- it is NOT obligatory, as posted incorrectly above.) The desktop software uploads the ink images in a timeline, and maintains an index of page identities automatically. It can output an audio-annotated animated PDF ‘penlet’ that progressively tints the writing to show the timeline of notes during the audio recording. You can hear what went with a written note, you can see what a sound led you to write. It is amazingly helpful. and the ‘special paper’ is a red herring- it’s decent paper priced comparably to other archival journals.

    The SDK promised the ability to develop printable forms with programmable fields for buttons, OCR, outputs on the pen’s display and so on. With the SDK is was possible (for example) to develop physical data collection pages of forms (inked signatures will be required for some things, forever) that are automatically available as digitized facsimilies- with accompanying time-stamped audio logs.

    The dev program could not have been a substantial drain on Livescribe, and some costs were recovered as developers populated the app store at livescribe (that one poster sagely advised Livescribe should have developed). Those devs who posted products to the store supposedly get some shared remuneration. My suspicion is that there is- as suggested- some patent skeleton in a trial lawyer’s closet that generated a cease-and-desist. It’s a complete shame they stunted the dev program and shorted all who invested time aiming to post apps in the store. I am sure the company will suffer from the loss of independent development.

    My end user experience has convinced me that developing portable, disposable, printable data input devices based on the undying need to jot notes (how many do you find in pockets each night?) does turn out to have a very interesting future- but now many fewer minds have the opportunity to explore it. Opportunities lost, for what cost?

  21. I use the smartpen for several yers now and I really like it.
    Now, 2 years later, I just realized that you can program it on your own and this was a point which made me really happy and I was either looking for the SDK when I landed here.

    I let the developers know, that even if they wont support their product anymore, its still good to publish the sdk as the community is a powerful might that can turn lost projects into success storys.
    Its still good to Give the people the possibility to improve your products!
    And even if its forbidden to share the SDK, I cant image, that the license either forbids to still use it for ptivate causes only, which I really would like to do.
    Is there really no way to get it?

  22. so….

    Has anything happened with regard to a developer forum being hosted somewhere?

    Has the SDK been seen in the wild?
    (the team I’m with has looked VERY thoroughly for it with no success)

    any news? anyone?

  23. I’ve been doodling with this thing for a while now.
    I tired looking around for a un-official forum but wasnt able to find one.

    I have the resources and space to put one up if there isn’t yet. I def see a use for one.

    Am I simply not seeing the forum? Or shall I take that first step?

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