Paper-thin, flexible smartphone could revolutionize industry

Within five years, all phones could be as thin and flexible as a sheet of paper, according to a Canadian scientists who’s presenting a prototype at a conference in Vancouver next week.

The prototype, called the PaperPhone, can store books, play music or make phone calls. But its display consists of a 9.5 cm diagonal thin film flexible E Ink display, meaning it looks just like a small sheet of paper. It uses no power when not in use.

“This is the future. Everything is going to look and feel like this within five years,” says creator Roel Vertegaal, the director of Queen’s University Human Media Lab.

“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.”

The team’s developed a version of the device, the Snaplet, which comes in the form of a bracelet. While it’s on the wrist, it works as a watch and media player; when flat it’s a PDA with notepad functionality; and when held in a concave shape it becomes a phone. It works with a stylus as well as a touch interface, with other functions controlled by bending each corner up or down.

Vertegaal says that being able to store and interact with documents on, say, A4 versions of the device could herald – at last – the paperless office.

“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,” he says.

Vertegaal will demonstrate the paper computer next week at the Association of Computing Machinery’s CHI 2011 (Computer Human Interaction) conference in Vancouver.