Thin is In: How electronic paper will revolutionize your next phone

By Michael Clark

Modern cell phones are smart, small, and incredibly fragile. Most of us have seen at least one phone with a screen that looks like Spider-Man shot it with webbing – the result of a tragic phone fumble. The more technology we cram into phones, the less durable they seem to be.

That’s not a problem for a team of researchers at The Queens University Human Media Lab. They’ve developed a tough, flexible, ultra-thin phone out of electronic paper. They call it the PaperPhone, and it lets you do most of the things modern phones can do, like make calls, record contacts, read texts, and even play music and store books. At 9.5 centimeters in length, the E-ink screen of the current model isn’t in color, but it can survive a lot more falls than any smartphone on the market.

While its form-factor is certainly revolutionary, its user interface quickly steals the show. It doesn’t rely solely on a touch screen like most smartphones. Instead, the user bends the phone like a piece of paper to perform different tasks. For example, turning a page of text is done by bending the corner of the phone, kind of like turning a real page. Calls are made by bending it like a cell phone. It can even be written on with a pen.

Creator Dr. Roel Vertegaal believes that electronic paper could replace technology used by offices. Computers made with electronic paper can be thrown around on a desk or stacked on top of each other, reducing the need for paper.

The electronic paper is incredibly portable, as it could fit in a wallet or a pocket easily. Unlike other phones, the PaperPhone doesn’t use any power when no one is interacting with it. Dr. Vertegaal believes that this technology will replace current smartphones within five to ten years.

Dr. Vertegaal’s team has also created a paper-thin computer that can be worn like a wristband. It is called a Snaplet, and like the PaperPhone, it can be operated through bending and moving the screen. For example, when the screen is laid completely flat, it opens up a notepad which can be drawn on with a pen. The Snaplet also includes a media player capable of displaying video or playing music. Like the PaperPhone, the screen is not in color, but the team hopes that with time and development, wearable computers will gain in popularity.

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