January 07, 2013, 11:44 AM — A prototype flexible tablet with edges that can be bent to switch between pages is expected to be shown at the International CES this week.
The PaperTab has a flexible 10.7-inch grayscale screen and is being pitched as a future alternative to heavier tablets with glass screens. The tablet with a flexible substrate is being developed by Intel, Plastic Logic and Queens University in Canada.
This kind of tablet could be commercially available within three to five years, but a definitive release date cannot be made at this point, said Roel Vertegaal, professor of human-computer interaction at Queen's University's School of Computing, in an email.
Current prototypes have grayscale screens, but flexible tablets with color displays are also in the works, Vertegaal said.
"In the current prototype the displays are powered through a tether to create the thinnest possible sensation. We have versions that are fully self-contained, including flexible batteries," Vertegaal said, adding that now the technology has to be commercialized.
The tablet is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor based on the Sandy Bridge architecture. Vertegaal said there are versions of the tablet with semiconductors built inside the flexible substrate.
The flexible tablet has a new usage model in which each application runs on a separate PaperTab, much like a paper tablet. A list of applications is shown on one PaperTab, and clicking an icon loads an app on another PaperTab. PaperTabs can also be linked together to show widescreen images.
Users can have different PaperTabs running multiple applications, but the tablets can also interact with each other. For example, one PaperTab can show an email inbox, and a new email can be started on a separate tablet by tapping two PaperTabs together.
A soft keyboard can also be used for input on a PaperTab, according to a YouTube video demonstrating the technology.
In e-book mode, the flexible display can be bent on the left or the right to switch between pages.
Plastic Logic is based in the U.K., and develops technology for flexible e-ink substrates with semiconductors. The Human Media Lab (HML) at Queen's University has also developed a prototype flexible smartphone called PaperPhone, which operates like a regular smartphone.