PaperFold bends the limits of smartphone tech

Queen’s professor’s new invention can change shape depending on the task at hand

PaperFold’s three screens can be detached.
Image by: Supplied
PaperFold’s three screens can be detached.

Queen’s professor Roel Vertegaal and student Antonio Gomes have recently revealed their latest project, a groundbreaking foldable smartphone called PaperFold.

PaperFold uses flexible-display technology interfaces that allow the user to shape the phone into a number of forms from a paper-like foldable map to a typical smartphone.

“A lot of our designs are based on paper metaphors,” said Vertegaal, a professor in the School of Computing and director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s.

Vertegaal’s previous inventions include the MorePhone, a curling smartphone that changes shape when calls or texts are received; PaperTab, a flexible tablet computer; the TeleHuman, a holographic videoconferencing system; the PaperPhone, which looks and bends like a piece of paper, and Attentive User Interface technology, currently the subject of a lawsuit brought by the University against Samsung.

“It’s inspiring to work with paper because you can have multiple displays. Each piece of paper itself is a display — you don’t have to work with overlapping sequential windows like you do with an iPhone.”

The shape-changing abilities of PaperFold are integral to its design, as the device is able to sense shifting orientation and configuration.

“PaperFold is a shape changing interface that decides what to show based on what its form is,” Vertegaal said.

The detachable faces allow the user to combine and orient the device to best suit the task at hand. For example, when looking at a map, combining the three interfaces would be beneficial in allowing a larger viewpoint, much like a paper map.

Writing e-mails on the other hand, would require less screen space. One screen could be detached and the other two placed at right angles, with one becoming the keyboard. In this way, PaperFold seeks to utilize viewpoint orientation and adjust its shape accordingly.

Vertegaal says he believes it’s possible for multiple different apps to be configured with PaperFold technology, which could open doors to an entirely new world of app innovation. Photo templates and Google maps, along with email and phone calls, have already been experimented with. The different viewing panes of PaperFold are revolutionary to how we experience smart phones and the images displayed on them.

Vertegaal says that PaperFold is ideal for multitasking. Users can actually see all their different apps open at once on three screens, as opposed to having to switch between them as on a typical smartphone.

“We’ve thought of having e-mail open on one interface, and a photo album open on the other, and being able to swipe a photo into your mailbox from one screen to the other,” Vertegaal said.

PaperFold is a versatile smartphone, introducing to the industry new ways of experiencing what a phone can do and what one singular device’s capabilities are.

PaperFold isn’t for sale, but Vertegaal is convinced that major smartphone companies will capitalize on the new technology. He believes it will be straightforward for these companies to incorporate PaperFold’s design and logic into new innovations and phones.

“This is the direction that things are heading in,” Vertegaal said.

“This is the next big thing.”



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