‘Paper Computer’ Brings New Dimension to Smartphones

By Kat Piper
Kat Piper
Kat Piper
May 9, 2011 Updated: September 29, 2015


Paper computer shows flexible future for smartphones and tablets

A new flexible computer that looks and feels like a sheet of paper could replace smartphones in five years, say its developers.

The prototype smartphone, called the PaperPhone, has been developed by researchers at Queen’s University in Canada and Arizona State University in the United States. It does everything an iPhone does, but its 3.7 inch diagonal bendable E Ink display has sensors that can react to a user’s touch and flex.

“This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years,” said PaperPhone’s creator Dr Roel Vertegaal, director of Queen’s University Human Media Lab, in a press release.

“This computer looks, feels, and operates like a small sheet of interactive paper. You interact with it by bending it into a cell phone, flipping the corner to turn pages, or writing on it with a pen.”

In a Human Media Lab video, the researchers demonstrate how a user can program the PaperPhone to learn different “bend gestures” to perform various functions on the device, such as scrolling through menus, flipping pages, or making or answering a phone call.

The team have studied the way people interact with the mobile device, and are presenting their results at the Association of Computing Machinery’s CHI (Computer Human Interaction) 2011 conference in Vancouver on May 10.

Ten people took part in the study and came up with a total of 87 “bend gesture pairs” to perform different tasks on the PaperPhone, according to the conference paper. After testing their effectiveness, six frequently used bend gesture pairs were identified, the most preferred, and natural feeling, being bending the corners and the side of the device up and down.

Replacing smartphones is not the only application Vertegaal sees for the super-lightweight paper computer.

“The paperless office is here. Everything can be stored digitally and you can place these computers on top of each other just like a stack of paper, or throw them around the desk,” Vertegaal said.

The device is also energy efficient, as it uses no power when no one is interacting with it.

It could also prove a winner with users who dislike current rigid e-book readers because they lack the feel and interaction of a traditional book.

In addition to the PaperPhone, the team will also demonstrate a thinfilm wristband computer called Snaplet at the Vancouver conference. When removed from the wrist and held flat, it opens up a notebook application that can be written on using a pen.

Kat Piper
Kat Piper