The office equipment makers of old have been retooling their products for the Information Age. Day-Timer is slowly phasing out its line of organiser books in favour of personal information management (PIM) software. The trademark 'flywheel' business card holders from Rolodex are being supplanted by the Rex, which electronically stores thousands of cards in a device itself only the size of a few business cards. The dictaphone, the executive note-taking device of the 1950s that resembled a telephone and was the bane of a secretary's existence, has been replaced by software that manages customer service hotlines. Even Royal, a former typewriter maker, is bringing out a personal digital assistant similar to the PalmPilot at the super-low price of US$100. The latest in this trend is A.T. Cross, the maker of high-class pens. It has brought out an electronic notepad device that features both regular and 'digital ink'. Its Crosspad lets users write on a conventional piece of paper placed on the pad's surface. At the same time, a computer version is stored into memory as a graphical image similar to a fax. Users write with a special pen that has a built-in radio transmitter activated when the pen is pressed on to the paper. Weighing 2.2 pounds and three-quarters of an inch thick, the Crosspad is slightly larger than an A4 notebook, but slimmer than all notebook PCs. It can store up to 50 pages of notes in its memory. These notes can be uploaded to a computer via a serial cable connection. Once stored as a file in the PC, the notes - written in the user's normal handwriting, not a special alphabet such as the PalmPilot requires - can be turned into regular text through character recognition software, developed by IBM. Cross claims the software has an accuracy rate of 85 per cent, which can be increased into the 'high 90s' if users do some exercises meant to teach the Crosspad how to recognise his or her writing. The Crosspad, launched last week in Hong Kong, sells for $3,180, which includes the special pen and five extra ink cartridges. Due to the radio transmitter, the ink cartridges are only about a third of the length of regular ones, and last about 50 pages each. A replacement packet of five cartridges will cost $50. Despite the smash popularity of PDAs such as the PalmPilot, Cross thinks there is a niche for its product. 'Our research shows most executives still take notes the old-fashioned way,' managing director for Asia, Christopher Zanardi-Landi, said. This is not the company's first hi-tech effort. It already sells the Digital Writer, which can replace the stylus used for writing on the screens of devices such as the PalmPilot. Cross says Digital Writer offers an improved feel, similar to pen-on-paper. Almost all of Cross' US$200 million in annual revenues still comes from selling regular pens, but Mr Zanardi-Landi expects that to change. 'Our traditional pen business will slowly go away, but there will always be the business of beautiful writing,' he said.