Have you seen Firefly? I have. I love that show. Whedon's "used future" conceptions are second only to the Star Wars universe. In this world, the two dominant language cultures are Chinese and English, space ships can be cheap junkers like someone's first Honda is today, and crime bosses can toss around amazing, full-color, flexible displays like they're nothing. This is the future I want. To be very clear, PaperTab, while a great-looking concept, is not going to be taking us there.
"Watch out tablet lovers!" is how the description for the video starts. Given what we end up seeing, I can only interpret this as a warning shot. To be very clear, the displays themselves look great as a concept! What we're seeing here are flexible e-ink screens that react to one another, can be navigated by bending corners or the entire unit, and are fully touch-capable. They are still very much in development, as you can see that typing wouldn't be optimal on them, but that comes with the territory of e-ink and new tech. Combine this research with what Samsung is doing on foldable color displays and you begin to get a sense of where things could go in the future. It's exciting.
You know what's not exciting? "Okay, this tab is your email app, and this tab is your Outbox tab, so in order to send an email, rather than simply tapping on a button like we've been doing since the dawn of email, you have to tap this tab on that tab and-" you've lost me. The prototype desk, as shown, has certain "hot spots" which essentially mean that where you place the tabs determines what function they perform. Because, when I think productivity, I think of a desk where I can't move a device for fear it will change function.
Of course, to be fair, this is not something that is even remotely consumer-ready. You won't see this on store shelves, you probably won't see this on the CES floor, and if we're honest, you might not hear of this particular product again ever. However, it's at least nice to see that development is being done on the underlying tech, even if the UI is one of the most cumbersome things I've witnessed. Whether there exists a demand for flimsy physical displays to replace paper remains to be seen, but who knows?
I really just want to believe Joss Whedon was right.