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Friday, May 6, 2011

Paper computers

Roel Vertegaal and his colleagues from Queen’s University, Ontario and Arizona State University have designed and tested the first interactive paper computer. Their device, called PaperPhone, is actually a thin flexible film with an e ink display that can be manipulated by physically bending the film.

Although the researchers anticipate that offices will one day eliminate real paper in favor of devices like PaperPhone, at this time they are studying how easily people can learn to manipulate the products. To that end, they gave a PaperPhone to 10 volunteers and showed them different ways to bend the device (bend the top or bottom corner backward or forward, bend the whole side in or out, etc.). The participants were asked to play with the PaperPhone and see which kinds of bends seemed the most natural to elicit specific results (like calling up a play list, or selecting a contact). Not surprisingly, for the most part, different people liked to configure their device in different ways.

Personally, I’m not sure bending a paper phone will be easier than using a touch screen, if one could be made that thin. On the other hand, it’s hard to predict what sort of devices will be in common usage over the next decade.

You can see the PaperPhone in action below.

Update: It's been pointed out on The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe that this is not a paper computer, but simply a new type of display.

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