One of the many things I love about old media such as magazines and newspapers is their flexibility. You can roll ‘em up, stick em’ in your back pocket, bang ‘em around and even use ‘em to swat house flies.
New media tablets, on the other hand, require almost a custodial reverence when it comes to ownership. Cases and sleeves are a must for transport and safe keeping, lest it get scratched or shattered. And you can forget about rolling one up in your back pocket or swatting house flies. Unless you want gashes in your drywall.
Potentially bridging this gap is a team from Canada’s Queen’s University. They’re collaborating with Intel Labs and Plastic Logic to redefine the tablet’s form as a flexible, paper-like touchscreen computer called PaperTab.
But PaperTab’s flexible form isn’t its only innovation. Unlike tablets, which switch between apps on a single display, multiple PaperTabs are designed to be used together. Each tab acts as a window for separate applications, but they still interact with each other.
For example, when a PaperTab is placed beyond reaching distance, it reverts to a thumbnail overview of the document, like icons on a desktop computer. When the tab is picked back up or touched, it switches back to a full screen view, like opening a new window.
Additionally, PaperTab’s interface allows functions simply by tapping tabs together. For example, a photo can be sent via email simply by tapping a tab of a draft email together with a tab of a photo. Even cooler, when that email is ready to go, it can be sent by bending the top corner of the display. Also, placing tabs side by side can create a larger display surface.
Designers say these functions emulate the natural handling of multiple sheets of paper. This may sound like a cluttered step back, but think how long it takes to back track through a tablet to close out or switch apps as opposed to picking up a piece of paper that’s right in front of you.
“Using several PaperTabs makes it much easier to work with multiple documents,” Roel Vertegaal, Director of Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab said on the university’s website. “Within five to ten years, most computers, from ultra-notebooks to tablets, will look and feel just like these sheets of printed color paper.”