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PaperTab: The Next Big Thing?

by Harry Becker

Looks and Feels Like Printed Color Paper

From desktops to laptops, from laptops to tablets, are we about to witness another evolution in home computing? Well … maybe.

That’s what Roel Vertegaal, director of Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab believes: ‘within five to ten years, most computers, from ultra-notebooks to tablets will look and feel just like these sheets of printed colour paper.’

Courtesy of Queen’s University

PaperTab, developed by Queen’s University in Canada, supposedly reinvents the traditional tablet. Rather than have one device holding multiple applications, each one of PaperTab’s pages holds a single application, which is automatically activated when touched. So one tab may hold your email inbox while another, your photo collection. Each tab is paper thin and can be twisted and turned just like it were made from actual paper.

PaperTab has radically altered navigation, too. Rather than clicking or swiping your way through a document, for example, the user simply bends the display in order to flip through its content. You can pass the content of one Tab over to another simply by touching them together. To attach a picture to an email, for instance, you simply touch the two Tabs together. The email can then be quickly sent by bending the corner of the Tab. This seems like a nice, intuitive way of doing things.

According to Human Media Lab, PaperTab can hold thousands of documents, replacing the need for a computer.

This is all rather exciting stuff and is clearly a pretty impressive piece of technology, although I do have some reservations. PaperTab has so far only been demoed in black-and-white, which doesn’t quite cut it anymore. The 10.7” display looks much like an old E-reader that it does a state-of-the-art tablet killer.  And there are, what I can only assume to be, power cables running out of each Tab. They’re rather un-slightly to say the least.

But while those are development issues, the real problem with PaperTab lies in its concept. As a tablet replacement, it won’t work. The advantage of a tablet, or a laptop for that matter, is in its portability. You have all your needs on one device. I personally have 30-odd applications on my tablet, would that translate as 30 Tabs? How would you use that on the move? Even at home, does anyone even have desk-space for that anymore?

PaperTab is an interesting spin on new technology but I just cant see it, in this particular form, taking off.

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