Mobile Technology

Ultrathin, flexible PaperTab redefines tablet form and function

The PaperTab flexible tablet developed at Queen's University
The PaperTab flexible tablet developed at Queen's University
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An email on one PaperTab can be sent by touching the outbox on another PaperTab
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An email on one PaperTab can be sent by touching the outbox on another PaperTab
Placing two (or more) PaperTab's next to each other creates a larger screen area
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Placing two (or more) PaperTab's next to each other creates a larger screen area
Objects can be dragged from one PaperTab to another
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Objects can be dragged from one PaperTab to another
The PaperTab can be navigated by bending the device in various ways
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The PaperTab can be navigated by bending the device in various ways
The PaperTab flexible tablet developed at Queen's University
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The PaperTab flexible tablet developed at Queen's University
PaperTabs keep track of their location respective to other PaperTabs and the user
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PaperTabs keep track of their location respective to other PaperTabs and the user
The PaperTab features a touchscreen
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The PaperTab features a touchscreen
What is displayed varies depending on the respective PaperTab's location
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What is displayed varies depending on the respective PaperTab's location

Despite their portability and popularity, the slab of glass form factor of tablets has its downsides. Most notably for the less coordinated among us is the propensity for the display to crack or shatter when dropped. A team at Canada’s Queen’s University working in collaboration with Intel Labs and Plastic Logic is looking not only to redefine the tablet's form, but the way people use them with the development of a flexible touchscreen computer called the PaperTab.

The PaperTab features plastic transistor technology developed by Plastic Logic that we’ve previously seen in that company’s Plastic Logic Reader and QUE ProReader. With Plastic Logic having now turned from manufacturing its own e-Readers to partnering with other companies, the PaperTab is powered by a second generation Intel core i5 processor and boasts a 10.7-inch, high resolution E-ink touchscreen display that is flexible, shatterproof and looks and feels like a sheet of paper.

Aside from the paper-like form factor, the PaperTab is also designed to be used differently from a conventional tablet. Rather than switching between apps on a single display, multiple PaperTabs are designed to be used at once with each one acting as a window for separate applications, while still interacting with each other. The interface the team has developed is designed to enable the device (or devices) to replace a computer monitor and the stacks of printouts that still clutter most offices.

PaperTabs keep track of their location respective to other PaperTabs and the user
PaperTabs keep track of their location respective to other PaperTabs and the user

Using an electromagnetic tracker, each PaperTab can keep track of its location relative to other PaparTabs and the user so that the display changes dynamically based on its position. For example, PaperTabs placed out of reach of the user revert to a thumbnail view of a document and switch back to a full screen page view when picked up. Additionally, documents can be opened on one display by touching a document icon on another, while photos on one device can be attached to an email composed on another by touching the two devices together.

A larger display area can be created by simply placing two or more PaperTabs next to each other with objects able to be dragged across multiple displays. While the device features a touchscreen, users can also navigate documents by bending the display in various ways.

An email on one PaperTab can be sent by touching the outbox on another PaperTab
An email on one PaperTab can be sent by touching the outbox on another PaperTab

“Using several PaperTabs makes it much easier to work with multiple documents,” says Roel Vertegaal, Director of Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab. “Within five to ten years, most computers, from ultra-notebooks to tablets, will look and feel just like these sheets of printed color paper.”

The PaperTab is still some way off commercial availability, but paper thin, flexible tablets, whether made using Plastic Logic’s plastic transistor technology, flexible OLEDs or something else, are likely to be the next big thing in the evolution of tablet computing technology. We’ll be taking a closer look at the PaperTab in its current form at CES 2013 – stay tuned.

The PaperTab and the interface designed for it are demonstrated in the video below.

Source: Queen’s University

PaperTab: Revolutionary paper tablet reveals future tablets to be thin and flexible as paper.

7 comments
Artisteroi Rlsh Gadgeteer
why not link all the app pages together into a book... oh yeah that's what we have now
cm
interesting concept imo. But wouldn't it be easier to just make the entire desk surface a touch screen and then electronically have multiple windows. This is aimed at the work environment I imagine.
splatman
Looks like someone invested a lot of passion into a solution, before identifying a problem. That's a common mistake made by techno-geeks. I know, I are one.
Gregg Eshelman
@cm Like Dillinger's desk in the original TRON movie.
c w
@cm Not being able to pick up the desk to read the content like one would a printed page would be one reason why. Seems likely this system would cost less than a desk-sized screen.
splatman
Now, if this was combined with paper-thin battery technology and Near Field Communications, then they might have a winner.
OFF-it Inc.
Sounds like a great idea as I am using my tablet with a cracked corner and broken screen from sliding off my legs yesterday. Would have saved the day!