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"A display with the thickness of a sheet of paper"
January 9, 2013 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday at CES, Plastic Logic unveiled PaperTab, a "tablet" that is thin and flexible like paper. Here's a hands-on video with Time Magazine, and here's another demo. The company had a very public failure three years ago with its cancelled Que tablet (previously), but now says it is focusing on licensing the technology to companies that want to make "the paper of the future."
posted by jbickers (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
T... h... a... t... ... i... s... ... s... o... m... e... ... s... l... o... w... ... t... y... p... i... n... g...
posted by Rock Steady at 1:41 PM on January 9, 2013


I know it's very early, but it looks terrible. No one is going to give up a bright, clear color display for a flimsy, ugly black and white one that you have to keep plugged in to your desk.
posted by MegoSteve at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know it's very early

Right.

, but it looks terrible. No one is going to give up a bright, clear color display for a flimsy, ugly black and white one that you have to keep plugged in to your desk.

Someone earlier in the thread noted it was very early. I imagine these are just prototypes.
posted by maxwelton at 1:48 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can one play Angry Birds on it?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:48 PM on January 9, 2013


I know it's very early

The article said this tech is 5-10 years out and will be in color.
posted by You Guys Like 2 Party? at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can imagine someone trying this with smartphones.
posted by Telpethoron at 1:51 PM on January 9, 2013


I don't really get the attraction of the super thin display like this, thin yes, a sheet of paper? Why continue with the outmoded paradigm?
posted by sfts2 at 1:54 PM on January 9, 2013


AAAAUGH. I knew this was coming! I "invented" this like 10+ years ago. I probably still have the sketches and notes somewhere.

My idea was to make individual mini-tablets that were basically just pieces of wireless smart paper. You could make a stack of them to from a notebook or binder. If you wanted a laptop formfactor, just make one sheet a keyboard and another the screen, or even just bend a sheet in half.

My idea was that they would be cheap enough to give away a sheet to someone if they needed directions to something, or a document, or whatever. It's basically a complete computer, so it could be all of the above or just storage or storage and display.

Or you could tile a wall with sheets and they'd automatically sense their relative positions, overlaps and misalignments and make a wall sized display.

Or stack up 100 of them in a "binder" and they'd form a parallel computer and share computing loads across sheets to increase total bandwidth and processing throughput. Or you could embed a faster mothership computer that talked to the sheets and used the sheets as I/O.

I even wanted to add transparent thin film solar to each sheet so it would charge it's own battery.
posted by loquacious at 1:57 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I agree with the above. New technology should make us go "oh! Neat!!!" not "why would I want that?"

I loved how there wasn't much focus on what seemed to be two huge cables/ribbons coming off the bottom of each of the pages (or whatever the heck they are called).
posted by HuronBob at 1:59 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


You guys realize this is a prototype, yes? It's cool technology that will probably not be used in a consumer product for another 5 years. Best to save the curmudgeonly griping until you can buy the thing.
posted by empath at 2:08 PM on January 9, 2013


I think that's the most impressive piece of technology I've ever seen that I have no desire for whatsoever.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:08 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


You haven't seen my decadildonic system then, have you?
posted by lalochezia at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


AAAAUGH. I knew this was coming! I "invented" this like 10+ years ago. I probably still have the sketches and notes somewhere.

I suspect a bunch of the invention that is going on here is the material science involved with making e-ink on thin flexible displays. The rest of the stuff is just mumbo jumbo software nonsense.

As someone that loves kindles, but has broken two of them, count me among the people that absolutely cannot wait for this tech to filter down to consumer electronics. I love the fact that e-ink is a reflective display, it helps me regulate my sleep cycles slightly better. I can do without the whole desk, and the multiple pieces of paper.

Just one, that has a stack of books on it, that I can bend slightly to turn the page. Into it.
posted by jonbro at 2:22 PM on January 9, 2013


The demo is all wrong. They spend all this time explaining the user interface (about which I'm not at all convinced), rather than just showing off the possibilities of the underlying technology. I don't care about your hot, warm, cold zone desk. How about encouraging others to imagine how they might use a thing that is a display, and touch sensitive, and sensitive to bends and distortions, and can maybe in the future be rolled up and used like a scroll or something else.
posted by meinvt at 2:23 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


AAAAUGH. I knew this was coming! I "invented" this like 10+ years ago. I probably still have the sketches and notes somewhere.

You and everyone else. For example, smart paper is the central plot point on Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, published in 1995:
A leaf of paper was about a hundred thousand nanometers thick; a third of a million atoms could fit into this span. Smart paper consisted of a network of infinitesimal computers sandwiched between mediatrons. A mediation was a thing that could change its color from place to place; two of them accounted for about two-thirds of the paper's thickness, leaving an internal gap wide enough to contain structures a hundred thousand atoms wide.

Light and air could easily penetrate to this point, so the works were contained within vacuoles— airless buckminsterfullerene shells overlaid with a reflective aluminum layer so that they would not implode en masse whenever the page was exposed to sunlight. The interiors of the buckyballs, then, constituted something close to a eutactic environment.

Here resided the rod logic that made the paper smart. Each of these spherical computers was linked to its four neighbors, north-east-southwest, by a bundle of flexible pushrods running down a flexible, evacuated buckytube, so that the page as a whole constituted a parallel computer made up of about a billion separate processors. The individual processors weren't especially smart or fast and were so susceptible to the elements that typically only a small fraction of them were working, but even with those limitations the smart paper still constituted, among other things, a powerful graphical computer.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:47 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can see the appeal of the larger display, esp for PDFs (the place where current ereaders really fall down) -- but I was thinking that I like the non-bendable nature of current ereaders. It's easier to hold up, make notes, etc.
posted by jb at 2:49 PM on January 9, 2013


Everyone always looks at technology like this and thinks 'how would this make a better book?' or 'why would this be better than a kindle?' The real question is how it lets people build things that don't even exist right now.
posted by empath at 2:51 PM on January 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Kyocera showed off this phone a while back, and I keep thinking about it. It's pretty much exactly what I want. Something that, when folded open, is roughly iPad mini in size, but that I can fold up and slip in to my pocket for easy carrying. About the only thing keeping me from using my iPad 24/7 is that I can't just slip it in my pocket and go. My iPhone generally lets me pick up where I left off on the iPad, but it'd be so much nicer to eliminate some of the device redundancy.
posted by xedrik at 2:52 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


esp for PDFs (the place where current ereaders really fall down)

I'm going to disagree, and say that, especially for viewing service manuals, PDFs on the iPad are amazing. It just feels so natural, flicking to turn pages, scrolling, pinch zooming. I have a 27" display on my desktop and still prefer the iPad for viewing tech manuals in PDF.
posted by xedrik at 2:54 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Time preview says that "a lot of the power for this is coming from under the table. The hope is in five or ten years they can have these self contained pieces of paper ..."

I think by "power" he means both electrical power and computational power. And both of those things pose considerable challenges. AFAIK we don't have super thin flexible batteries right now. And we don't have super thing flexible CPUs either.

I don't think their product vision is as close as 10 years. Because they really only are showing off the first step on one of the several components necessary. And they're not making that compelling a case for it either. Because basically eink, as it currently exists, is shitty for anything other than reading static text.
posted by aubilenon at 2:58 PM on January 9, 2013


You and everyone else. For example, smart paper is the central plot point on Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, published in 1995:

Oh, sure. I've talked to other unsuccessful armchair inventors and this happens a lot, like "Damnit, I had that idea ages ago!"

I hadn't read Diamond Age yet when I came up with my idea. My idea was inspired at the time by reports and press releases of flexible displays and e-paper before e-paper or e-ink was commercially available, thin film solar, thin "paper" or "printed" batteries and small LiPo rechargable cells, and stuff like more robust and complex integrated System-on-a-Chip (SOCs) that had low power requirements and nifty features like integrated RF systems for WiFi.

It's not a huge stretch to put them all together in a single package. Hey, look, ma! It's a computer! In a sheet of paper! You can fold it or roll it up and stick it in your pocket!

Most of my sketches were more about end use and form factor concepts which is really more design than engineering.

Like a lot of nerds I also have sketchbooks of "smartphones" from back in the early to mid 90s. I really just wanted a tricorder and portable computer. They were ugly, lumpy things with too many sensors, cameras, physical keyboards and blinkenlights and stuff.

I never foresaw or imagined the minimal end-product of smartphone evolution - the minimal flat glass slab with as few buttons as possible. That's something that's really boring to draw and design when you're sketching out portable devices with lots of exciting, complex curves and bulges over sensors, antennae and blinkenlights.
posted by loquacious at 3:02 PM on January 9, 2013


I came in to say the same thing as meinvt. This promises to be a really breakthrough technology, but one common feature of breakthrough technologies is that it takes a few product cycles for people to really appreciate how to use them well.

These guys have a potentially revolutionary technology, and they're showing off random features of some pre-alpha product that aren't even related to the technology itself.

It's like Google holding a demo of a self-driving car, and the demo is all about the stereo system.
posted by bjrubble at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I held one of their prototypes in 2009. In digital publishing this company is pretty much the go-to reference for "overhyped thing that never happened." Like Chinese Democracy or Duke Nukem Forever, both of which at least actually happened.
posted by nev at 3:09 PM on January 9, 2013


AFAIK we don't have super thin flexible batteries right now.

There is/was a (I believe) Israeli company that had developed a printed, thin battery, but as I recall it was a simple zinc chemical battery intending to be disposable.

And we don't have super thing flexible CPUs either.

No, but you can get a whole system on a chip in the space of about a square centimeter or two and about 2-3mm thick. Just embed it in a small bump in the corner of the page and use flexible film circuits. Heck, an Atom or ARM chip is super tiny these days.

Because basically eink, as it currently exists, is shitty for anything other than reading static text.

This isn't actually true, either. There's someone who hacked Quake or Doom or something into a Kindle or other e-reader and gets it to run more or less at full speed with full frame video. Sure, it's blurry and grainy but you can do it.

E-ink is tricky in that some of the dots or subpixels will get "stuck" if they're refreshed too quickly, so basically all e-ink readers and displays currently on the market do a full screen blackout and refresh before drawing the next page to help unstick any stuck subpixels or e-ink spheres. One of the main tricks to the Doom/Quake hack was disabling this refresh cycle.

It's mainly a customer perception/quality issue. If you're ok with some stuck grains of e-ink it's actually totally capable of displaying animated video, and it does a better job of it than those old monochrome LCD pocket TVs they used to have in the 80s, and maybe even marginally better than a original Gameboy display.
posted by loquacious at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2013


I'm imagining things like interactive origami that displays its own folding instructions as you make it. Portable treasure maps you can synch with hotspots (yes this already absolutely exists, but these you could roll up and seal with wax and ribbon). A letter you can send through the mail, repeatedly back and forth, and hand-write on it over and over. A portable chess board you can play with actual pieces that will record their locations and set back up when and where you want it, and synch with an online player.

It's clunky and the demo seems to want to push ideas that are flat out wrong, but this is still super cool, and I want it to be successful.
posted by Mizu at 3:32 PM on January 9, 2013


I don't really get the attraction of the super thin display like this, thin yes, a sheet of paper? Why continue with the outmoded paradigm?

I wouldn't mind having a foldable-like-paper but doesn't crease display in my back pocket.

If they can figure out how to have a coin-sized device along the top or bottom edge of the display to supply power and a wireless interface (or even an entire device) then this could be pretty interesting.

Even better, they can figure out how to print a small and thing enough device and power supply, then maybe it won't even be a coin sized bump but be just a flush bezel, your 0.5" border if you will.
posted by linux at 4:37 PM on January 9, 2013


One thing you could do with this is have a tablet or laptop with a screen that unfolds into a large secondary display. Basically what we can get out of this is big screens that are extremely portable. You could potentially have a newspaper-sized touchscreen, for instance, that rolls/folds up into something that easily fits in a pocket and syncs to your phone. That would be awesome, right? I want that.
posted by Scientist at 6:09 PM on January 9, 2013


Also, I think that the ultimate form-factor for this is going to be a roll-up display. Folding is a lot harder because of creases, but a roll-up display would let you basically have like a scroll where the handles were the battery and the processor. It might make the most sense for it to not try and be a stand-alone device but for it to instead be basically a terminal, where your phone or tablet or laptop would wirelessly take commands from the screen and serve the correct visuals back to it. What would be extra sweet is if you could roll it out and then give it a "snap" which would cause it to stiffen up. We have alloys or polymers or whatever that could do that, right? I would love that.
posted by Scientist at 6:17 PM on January 9, 2013


I just discovered these thin rechargable batteries: Thinergy Micro Energy Cells.

0.17mm thick.

Through this kickstarter for a very thin e-ink watch.
posted by loquacious at 8:06 PM on January 9, 2013


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