Digital pen maker reaches sales milestone

Wacom, with local site, has sold 100 million units

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Digital pen maker Wacom Co., which bases its operations for the Americas in Vancouver, this week announced a sales milestone of 100 million units of its digital pen components that are used by people ranging from professional artists to smartphone doodlers.

The Japan-based company said it had crossed the 100 million sales threshhold on April 16 as smartphone makers have incorporated the Wacom pens into their products. In particular, Samsung Electronics Galaxy has popularized the Wacom digital pen as one of the central features of its Galaxy Note phone, introduced in 2011.

Wacom, founded in 1983, has long carved out a niche for its products among professional animators and artists, photographers, industrial illustrators, and cartoonists producing such popular works as Garfield and Dilbert. But the pen has been introduced to the masses thanks to smartphones and tablets. Of its 100 million pen components sold to date, Wacom said in a news release, 90 million have been manufactured in the last three years. In the past year, it sold more of the pen components than in all previous years combined, the company said.

"More and more people are embracing the pen, and its a good thing to see, said Doug Little, public relations manager at Wacom in Vancouver. "It's nice to see the pen is being used for more than just creative work, but also for navigation and other uses."

The company's success has contributed to its growth at its Vancouver offices, where employees work in a wide range of professions including product design. Little says the company has added 20 to 30 employees in recent months, and now has more than 150 workers in the Vancouver office.

Wacom, facing competition primarily from Israel-based digital pen maker N-Trig Inc., is pushing into new areas of technology.

Its current products use Electro-Magnetic Resonance, or EMR, technology, which allows for precise and speedy battery-less pens that respond with great accuracy to pressure sensitivity. It says those pens are most suitable for heavy users producing small characters and detailed sketches.

Its new line of products will use what are called electrostatic technologies with battery-operated pens that don't require incorporation into the product. The "Active ES" pen is suitable for medium-volume users in preparing documents and memos, Wacom says. The "Passive ES" pen is a simpler product that can be used for note-taking and other tasks requiring little precision.

In February, Wacom announced that it was pursing partnerships for a digital inking service it has dubbed WILL — the Wacom Ink Layer Language. That initiative will allow the sharing of digital handwritten messages across various types of mobile devices that would allow multiple users to collaborate, share and edit handwritten content via the cloud. In a simple example, Little said, a person in Vancouver could write a digital note on a smartphone that could be read and responded to by someone on a device in New York City.

The company is in talks with partners to develop that technology, Little said.