The Lux List / Collectibles

Montblanc Augmented Paper: Ode to Digital Luxury

Handwriting is much loved at the German firm Montblanc but it is out of step with the times. This augmented notebook and pen set will change that.

Sep 04, 2016 | By Staff Writer

What in the world is Augmented Paper and what does Montblanc have to do with it? Well, to begin with, let’s slow it down a little and go back to basics. Handwriting is an art much loved at the German writing instruments and watchmaking firm Montblanc but it is a decidedly analog love affair in an increasingly digital milieu. Well, with a dash of augmented reality, Montblanc is showing off an augmented notebook and pen set at IFA 2016 (it automatically digitizes handwritten notes) that has already won over a segment of the public.

Now, there is nothing inherently revolutionary about this, just as there was nothing truly special about Apple’s touchscreen mobiles when they came out. In the current case, real-world pens that can capture real-world notes and send them to a computer, tablet or smartphone screen are nothing new. LiveScribe has been successfully cultivating a loyal following of journalists and college students for many years with its clever pens that can save doodles and even simultaneously record sound.

Of course, most clever pens don’t speak at all to the values of traditional craftsmanship nor do they make aesthetic gestures towards cultivating an individual style. This, you might guess, is where the Montblanc Augmented Paper enters the picture.

It is essentially a modified Montblanc StarWalker ballpoint pen and an Italian leather bound notebook that come in their own folio, also in leather; Montblanc’s writing instruments are typically made in Germany but its leather workshops are in Italy.

In a neat coup, the company isn’t calling attention to next-gen pens or anything like that. Indeed the company is calling the system Augmented Paper rather than a smart pen because it is the smart leather folio – essentially a cunningly disguised graphics tablet – where most of the tech is hidden. Ok, so there is some leaden stuff in this approach for sure.

As long as you write with the pen, on the notepaper, while it is on this folio, it can, according to the company, accurately recognize handwriting (in 12 different languages) and convert it into an on-screen font. The Montblanc Augmented paper set really only works as a set.

On the other hand, the system doesn’t need to be connected to a computer or other device to work. Simply start jotting and it can save up to 100 pages of notes internally. When it is time to empty the memory to start jotting again, there’s an app – the Montblanc Hub app – that can be used simply for storing and cataloguing or for sharing notes with others. This app has been met with some criticism, as apps are wont to encounter. Basically, as we understand it, the digitized handwriting is searchable once transferred via the Montblanc Hub app, which is amazing. Every new note gets its own page in the app, even if it is part of the same page in the notepad, which can be confusing; there is apparently no option to reorganize into folders and such. Check out The Verge’s comprehensive look at the Montblanc Augmented Paper for more on this.

The tech that does the saving and much of the heavy lifting here isn’t from Montblanc but Wacom and is essentially electromagnetic resonance. Basically, the folio generates a weak electromagnetic field, which is what the Montblanc StarWalker ballpoint pen interacts with. It is this interaction between field and pen that is captured so the entire process is actually a digital one, not one that moves from analog to digital. At the same time, what you produce with the pen on the notepad are of course proper handwritten notes; they can’t be digitally erased. Lenovo and of course Wacom feature this tech in their products and it is reportedly stable.

The batteries will last for up to eight hours and everything can be recharged via the bundled USB cables. The set will cost $725 when it goes on sale, exclusively at Harrods in London from mid-September. But for that fee, Montblanc is throwing in three ballpoint pen refills.

And for those that don’t live in Knightsbridge that are taken by Montblanc’s marriage of analogue luxury and digital practicality, the Augmented Paper will be going on sale globally via Montblanc boutiques and concessions, from October. We’re eagerly awaiting our shot at this in Singapore.