WILL (Wacom Ink Layer Language) is a Software Developer's Kit (SDK) for digital ink technology that allows users to freely share and utilize handwritten ink data without worrying about hardware or software compatibility. The Ink Division is a team dedicated to increasing awareness and spreading the use of WILL. Lannie Zhang, the only product manager in the Ink Division in China talks about how the Ink Division is Wacom's innovation center for software and so much more. We spoke with Lannie about the team’s efforts in China since this division was established in 2018, her goals for the future, and how she plans to continue taking on new challenges in an ever-changing environment.
Could you tell us about your responsibilities in the Ink Division?
Lannie: As a Senior Product Manager in the Ink Division, I am responsible for China and the Asia Pacific area. The Ink Division is an independent department within the company, which supports other business units and has the task of finding ways to add value to our products. Personally, I think our division is Wacom's innovation center where new ideas and technologies around ink are born. We have developers on the team, but we are mostly interested in being creative and innovative ourselves. The entire team works with the mindset that we are creating the Wacom of tomorrow.
Can you tell us about some initiatives happening in the Ink Division?
Lannie: One global initiative I was involved in is a joint project between Montblanc and Wacom. Montblanc is a founding member of the Digital Stationery Consortium (DSC*). They launched Augmented Paper to combine the writing feeling of a Montblanc writing instrument together with the benefits of digital. I was very happy to collaborate with Montblanc, to be a part of this project together with TSBU colleagues, and make it all happen.
*A non-profit organization initiated by Wacom in 2016 to promote the spread and market development of digital stationery.
What kind of initiatives are you working on in China?
Lannie: We are working on various tasks to increase awareness of WILL (Wacom Ink Layer Language*) in China. In the past few years, we have mostly been focusing on supporting education. At the end of 2020, the WILL SDK was adopted for the Roombox Whiteboard by the New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc.
Roombox Whiteboard makes it possible to write on a whiteboard while it’s being used in their online learning platform, New Oriental Cloud Classroom (Roombox). Roombox is one of the largest online learning platforms in China, with over four million users to date. We are very happy that WILL is being used on a daily basis and that we are contributing to the learning platform’s value.
*WILL is a technology that allows users to freely share and utilize their handwritten ink data (digital ink) across computer operating systems (OS), hardware platforms, application software, etc., without worrying about compatibility. Wacom provides SDK (Software Developer's Kit) to enable WILL to be used in a wide range of fields.
“How to help optimize handwriting and stabilize output” from Connected Ink 2021.
What challenges do you think are necessary to increase awareness and make WILL more popular in China?
Lannie: I believe that the Ink Division’s mission is to convey to customers that Wacom is a company that can provide not only hardware but also solutions including hardware, software, and related services. To achieve this, it’s necessary to cooperate with our team members who are customer facing. Getting team members to understand WILL's technology is another challenge, but also one of the things I find really interesting. It’s not easy, especially for team members who have been involved in hardware for many years, because it starts with understanding basic terminology such as WILL SDK, for example. We took the time to explain it to them, and I think they now know that our ink technology is what differentiates us from our competitors.
Wacom wants to provide unique experiences, not just tools, and our products are a gateway to that. We want our customers, both businesses and individuals, to become familiar with Wacom's technologies. That’s why we need to nurture the market so that people understand the value of our technology and products.
You are also involved in activities such as Connected Ink, the Inkathon, and the Digital Stationery Consortium. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Lannie: I am the only product manager in the Ink Division in China, so I am involved in various activities to build partnerships in the country.
The Inkathon (*1), Connected Ink(*2), and the DSC are all global events held by Wacom. We thought that localizing them to China would allow us to meet more engineers and partners in the country. DSC, for example, now has a WeChat service account that allows communication in Chinese, which helps us promote more interaction while creating an environment that makes it easier for domestic partners to participate. In addition, Connected Ink is working with domestic partners to introduce technologies for the future and inform them about all the possibilities of new solutions.
*1: A development contest organized by Wacom since 2016 for apps featuring an ink function.
*2: An event organized by Wacom since 2016 for the purpose of exploring new directions in art, human expression, learning, and the technology that supports them. Each year has a new theme and question that is posed to the participants.
Since joining the company in 2011, has there been a particular initiative that stands out in your mind during your 10+ years at Wacom?
Lannie: It’s not directly related to my work, but I volunteer at my local library to read books to children. One time I used a Wacom Bamboo Smartpad* to write down the contents of one of the books we were reading. I tried to get the children's attention, but they were too fascinated by the words I wrote on paper using the Bamboo Smartpad since it was being digitized on the tablet in real time. They said, "It's like magic!” Their parents were also interested in the process and asked how to go from analog to digital handwriting. I was really proud that our technology and our products are able to create such magical moments.
*Wacom Bamboo Smartpad is a notepad that allows you to digitize text and pictures written on paper by using a special pen. This product is bridging the analog and digital worlds since ink can be physical as well as digital.
As a member of the Innovation Center, what is your secret to staying innovative?
Lannie: I like challenges. I would rather try something new than do the same thing every day. I enjoy the opportunity to see the surprises that await me once I complete a challenge. It’s not easy to explain digital ink technology or to help customers understand it. I myself am learning every day. But sharing what I learn with my colleagues and customers is what makes me proud of what we are doing and I believe that this is what it means to work at Wacom. Every time I talk to my colleagues or our partners, new ideas bubble up which, by nature, sparks new opportunities and drives us to move forward.
Do you have any goals or dreams that you would like to make happen in the future?
Lannie: I would like Wacom to be a symbol for creation, to be recognized not only as a hardware company, but as a company that can provide solutions beyond the use of tools. It may be a lofty dream, but I believe we can achieve it. And I would be happy if more people could see the value of digital ink. I’m working on some communication initiatives that will help people better understand digital ink technology and hopefully get them interested in exploring this topic together. We also have some ideas that haven’t been introduced to the market yet. We’re currently in the process of fine-tuning them to figure out how they could be useful for people and society at large. I hope to meet many more customers while I continue facing the challenges that come with bringing new products and technologies out into the world.