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PaperFold E Ink phone is context sensitive based on folds

A foldable e-paper smartphone concept adjusts how it displays information based on the configuration of folds between its three screens.

A foldable e-paper smartphone concept adjusts how it displays information based on the configuration of folds between its three screens.

(Credit: Human Media Lab)

An E Ink smartphone is yet to really see mainstream success, and it's not all that hard to see why. While an E Ink display uses significantly less power than the more popular full-colour, high-resolution LCD, the refresh rate is significantly slower — e-paper has to offer something beyond the standard smartphone feature-set in order to lure users.

Could that something be a context-sensitive folding display? PaperFold, a concept smartphone by Queen's University's Human Media Lab, looks pretty impressive. It's a smartphone that can make calls, send messages and access the internet — but it also has another trick: three screens that can fold together or detach from one another for a variety of configurations.

"In PaperFold, each display tile can act independently or as part of a single system," said Dr Vertegaal, a professor in the School of Computing and Director of the Human Media Lab. "It allows multiple device form factors, providing support for mobile tasks that require large screen real estate or keyboards on demand, while retaining an ultra-compact, ultra-thin and lightweight form factor."

(Credit: Human Media Lab)

The phone can automatically recognise its configuration and change how it displays information based on that configuration. For example, opening it up like a notebook changes the bottom display into a keyboard for typing — to perform web searches, for example.

Other configurations include flattening, which opens a Google map view across all three flattened screens; folding into the shape of a building, which will display the Google SketchUp model of the building that can be 3D printed; or, viewing an album of thumbnails, flipping the right side up and down will flip through the thumbnails shown on the left in full-screen.

"The development of electronic paper computers that can adopt similar qualities to paper has been an enduring research goal for our team," Dr Vertegaal said. "Books use folding as both a navigational and space saving technique, and paper maps have malleable display sizes. The PaperFold smartphone adopts folding techniques that makes paper so versatile, and employs them to change views or functionality of a smartphone, as well as alter its screen real estate in a flexible manner. PaperFold demonstrates how form could equal function in malleable mobile devices."

The device, which made its debut at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto, is only in concept prototype stage, and the team has made no mention of commercial development. However, if this is what the future of an E Ink smartphone looks like, it's a bright and intriguing one.