Kickstarters continue to drive innovation. The latest piece of technology to arrive at my desk for evaluation isn’t really technology at all, at least not as most people usually think of it. Rocketbook entered the market with the goal of creating the last notebook you would ever need to buy. And I think they succeeded. Unfortunately, Rocketbook is making a big splash just as Apple slashed the price of an Apple Pencil compatible iPad. Don’t worry about making an agonizing decision, you’ll probably want and need both.
What is a Rocketbook?
A Rocketbook is code-empowered an erasable notebook. The more advanced versions use a special erasable Pilot Frixion pen. The pen, though, is not special to Rocketbook. It is widely available online and at office supply stores. The Rocketbook One uses any pen and the Color is designed for Crayola dry erase markers.
Using the notebooks are simple:
Write something on a page
Put an X on the icon related to the destination where you would like to upload the page
Scan the page with the Rocketbook App
And the service takes it from there, transporting your pages to the designated store on in the cloud.
Rocketbooks innovate in three key areas. First, they created clever image capture software that interprets symbols on physical notebook pages. When setting up the software, each user assigns an icon to a repository or a specific place in a repository (such as a Dropbox folder). The app supports Google Drive, Box, Evernote, Dropbox, Slack, OneNote, and e-mail.
Second, Rocketbook created the paper that drives the software. When a note taker places an “X” on a notebook page symbol, it acts as a placeholder for future action. This allows for rapid notetaking and organization on the fly. When the page eventually gets captured, it ends up in the spot associated with that icon by the app.
Third, they created a variety of reusable papers. Rocketbooks currently comes in five forms, the Rocketbook Everlast ($34 – erasable), the Rocketbook Color ($22 – dry-erase markers), the Rocketbook One ($12 – one use, any pen) the Rocketbook Wave ($27). The Rocketbook Wave will completely erase in a microwave up to 5 times. A new pocket notebook is in the works.
For the Rocketbook app to work, you need a black border, a QR code, and the icons. Rocketbook offers downloadable paper. Some clever educators and others are rockin’ Rocketbook hacks (see video below) that don’t require a notebook at all. If you want to play with your own hacks, or just want to try the app before investing in a notebook, you can download Rocketbook compatible paper samples here.
Apple Pencil vs. Rocketbook
As the owner of an iPad Pro 10.5 and an Apple Pencil, I am not Rocketbook’s target audience. I try not to write on paper ever. I live in Fluid Touch’s Noteshelfwith occasional forays into other note apps like FiftyThree’s Paper. With the price cut on Apple Pencil-enabled, iPads more people will be able to write on their iPads without the gimmicks of wrist rejection or third-party stylus choices. For some, the iPad and Apple Pencil combination will outweigh Rocketbook’s reusability features.
If you don’t own an iPad Pro or the latest iPad, however, then Rocketbook may be a perfect choice. Unlike the Pencil, these notebooks capture handwriting from any current iOS device, including phones. They also work in technology-free zones like some classrooms and commercial and government project areas.
So, what are the tradeoffs? Rocketbooks require carrying more than one pen, especially if you want to draw in color (through Pilot does make multi-color Frixion pens)–or if you worry about running out of ink on the road. On the other hand, the iPad might run out of juice. Neither happens all that frequently, but they remain a note taker’s biggest area of angst.
Opting for a color notebook version and a set of Crayola pens doesn’t save that much weight or space over the iPad. The iPad also offers virtual drawing spaces, where the Rocketbook comes with clear page edges. The waterproof Color Rocket, however, along with toxic free Crayola pens makes the Rocketbook solution a better choice for kids. Using a parents account as a destination gives them control of sharing and access to content.
If you need the flexibility of the iPad, and you buy one that is Apple Pencil enabled, then the iPad will likely handle most of your note-taking tasks, along with sharing those notes to the various destinations you choose. For those just taking notes with a desire to capture them digitally, then Rocketbook fits the bill.Do you find yourself occasionally taking paper notes because it’s just more convenient? A Rocketbook investment wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Rocketbook experience pretty much eliminates any need to write on paper that doesn’t automate its storage. At less than $40 for an Everlast and a pen, you can get rid of clutter and investments in other paper. You do have to take the time to capture the notes for the system to make sense though.
The Apple and Rocketbook combine to squeeze Livescribe’s note capture model that not only requires its own, non-reuseable paper, but also a special pen. With the starting point of $179.95, a Livescribe purchase seriously eats into the cost of the new iPad and Apple Pencil. Livescribe offers little advantage Rocket book save the ability to write notes and record audio simultaneously. That, however, is a trick also performed in some notetaking apps on the iPad, which further makes the expense of a Livescribe questionable.
I find the icons on the printed pages exceedingly difficult to read, especially on the Everlast notepad. Once you get accustomed to the icon placement, it gets a little easier, but selecting a different icon from one used before, at least for me, requires a lighted magnifying glass. The Wave and Color offer slightly more readable icons, but they still prove hard to read in poor light.
Given that some of the notebooks do have limited spans of utility (One and Wave) I would like to see a few more pages in both to make the investment last a bit longer. Over time the Everlast, which cleans-up with water, may make the One version superfluous. Hopefully, future innovations will give the Wave to a few more zap cycles before it forgets how to forget.
Many of the hacks in the video above would not require much in terms of investment now that the software is up and running. Rocketbook would not require another Kickstarter to productionize the hacks. I know they plan to make money from selling notebooks, but the ease of turning almost any surface into something the Rocketbook app can capture and classify challenges their long-term business model unless they get into selling the hacks themselves.
The Rocketbook line of products offers an innovative take on notetaking that complements the iPad and the Apple Pencil. The company’s solution benefits from pretty low entry costs, reuseable notebooks and the ability to capture handwritten notes on any device, not just the Apple Pencil enabled iPads. Applications range from business notes to children’s art, personal journals, and education across disciplines. Leonardo da Vinci’s mind is perhaps somewhere wondering why he missed this invention—if anyone ever needed a Rocketbook, it was Leonardo.
Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.