Is that a piece of paper or a computer?

Queen’s University researchers from Kingston, Ont. have teamed up with Intel and Plastic Logo to invent a tablet prototype that resembles and feels like a piece of paper.

Dubbed the PaperTab tablet, the fully-flexible device has an interactive plastic display and a 10.7-inch, high resolution E-ink touchscreen.

The tablet, showcased at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada Jan. 8, features plastic transistor technology courtesy of Plastic Logic and is run by a second generation Intel core i5 processor.

Instead of using several apps or windows on a single display, users have 10 or more interactive displays or PaperTabs — one per app in use as seen in this video.

“Using several PaperTabs makes it much easier to work with multiple documents,” Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab director Roel Vertegaal said in a statement. “Within five to 10 years, most computers, from ultra-notebooks to tablets, will look and feel just like these sheets of printed color paper.”

As an example, the device’s “intuitive interface” enables a user to e-mail a photo in a few simple steps. The user first taps one PaperTab showing a draft e-mail with another PaperTab showing the photo to automatically attach the photo to the draft e-mail. The e-mail can be sent by placing the PaperTab in an out tray or by bending the top corner of the display.

To create a large image or display surface, the tablets can be handled much like regular sheets of paper. The user can place two or more PaperTabs side-by-side to. The thin displays allow the user to draw or drag images across multiple tabs.

PaperTab also has the ability to file and display thousands of paper documents that, soon, could make computer monitors and stacks of papers or printouts unnecessary.

“Unlike traditional tablets, PaperTabs keep track of their location relative to each other, and the user, providing a seamless experience across all apps, as if they were physical computer windows,” the statement says.

“For example, when a PaperTab is placed outside of reaching distance it reverts to a thumbnail overview of a document, just like icons on a computer desktop. When picked up or touched a PaperTab switches back to a full screen page view, just like opening a window on a computer.”

PaperTabs may seem fragile due to their thin and lightweight bodies, but the devices are hardy and can be tossed around on a table or desk without harm. In fact, by bending one side of a PaperTab display, users can also navigate through files and images much like a reader would thumb through pages of a magazine.

“Plastic Logic’s flexible plastic displays are completely transformational in terms of product interaction,” says Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee.

“They allow a natural human interaction with electronic paper, being lighter, thinner and more robust compared with today’s standard glass-based displays. This is just one example of the innovative revolutionary design approaches enabled by flexible displays.”

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