PaperTab: The paper-thin flexible tablet prototype that wants to replace paper (video)

Offering a glimpse into what computers might look like in the future, Plastic Logic has unveiled a paper-thin flexible tablet PC prototype at CES in Las Vegas.

Called PaperTab, the tablet has a flexible, high-resolution plastic display that looks and feels just like a sheet of paper.

But it's a fully interactive flexible, high-resolution 10.7-inch plastic display developed by Plastic Logic, powered by the second-generation Intel Core i5 processor.

Where the technology aims to differ from your average tablet experience is that users will be expected to run an app per display rather than multiple apps on a single display - as we do now with regular "tablets" from Google and Apple. 

"Instead of using several apps or windows on a single display, users have ten or more interactive displays or PaperTabs: one per app in use," explains Ryan Brotman, a research scientist at Intel.

The idea is that users will then be able to share information between the PaperTabs simply by tapping them next to each other, flick through the document by bending the screen or join screens together to create a bigger display.

PaperTab's interface also allows a user to send a photo simply by tapping one PaperTab showing a draft email with another PaperTab showing the photo, explains Plastic Logic, the UK-based company behind the idea. The photo is then automatically attached to the draft email. The email is sent either by placing the PaperTab in an out tray, or by bending the top corner of the display.

Other examples cited include placing two PaperTabs side by side to create a larger display surface.

According to the company, the PaperTab can also file and display thousands of paper documents, replacing the need for a computer monitor and stacks of papers or printouts - a 100-page document would be one PaperTab, for example.

Unlike traditional tablets, Plastic Logic says, the PaperTab will 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. 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.

The ultimate idea appears to be to emulate the natural handling of multiple sheets of paper. The company promises that the PaperTabs are lightweight and robust, so they can easily be tossed around on a desk while providing a magazine-like reading experience.

No word on when they are out, or how much they will cost, but if the idea catches on, expect paper never to be the same again.