Over the past two weeks we've been incorporating a lightweight flexible technology into our workflow. Usually, of course, just about everything we write is routed through a processor, operating system and application and immediately reflected on an LCD using some multitasking user interface. However, we have been seeking a way to organize to-do lists on a separate display so that they are not lost in the course of a day's work or taking up undue screen real estate. As it happens, we were invited to an exclusive press event extolling the latest version of paper.
Paper is a thin, foldable substance that can accommodate a wide array of styli to produce words and graphics. The catch is that, much like printer cartridges, these styli must be refilled with ink or replaced. But there is a wide ecosystem of these devices that are broadly available.
The developers of paper have really put a lot of forethought into a wide array of uses. The tool has almost no learning curve and data entry is so simple that young children will have no problems mastering its basics. Paper yields high contrast when used with the appropriate ink and consumes no power. And, simply put, there is no display on the market that can fold as flexibly as paper, allowing us to slip a small sheet imperceptibly into a shirt pocket or wallet.
When used with pencils, paper offers effective editing options, but we preferred using the smooth flowing ink option, which required that we use a cross-out gesture to correct input errors. This resulted in words becoming unreadable, but they still consumed space on the surface. Of course, the low cost of paper makes it trivial to simply start with a new document but any content on the first sheet that you want to carry over must be recreated. This can make editing extremely tedious, and explains why it was far more effective for the works of Shakespeare to be properly typed by an infinite group of monkeys rather than written by a single man.
To try overcoming some of the disadvantages of paper, we tried the Boogie Board from Improv Electronics. The Boogie Board is a slim monochrome LCD that can be used for many of the same kinds of tasks as paper. However, as with the ink and paper combination, the screen cannot be selectively erased. In addition, while the paper backup process, which involves a scanner or copy machine, is kludgy at best, these measures don't work quite as well with the Boogie Board, leaving a photo all that keeps your writing from accidental deletion at the press of a button. Still, we're optimistic about the potential of a Boogie Board equipped with a USB port or SD card slot for easy sharing and backup. One reader has tipped us that CherryPal will soon be releasing a version of this for 99 cents.
That said, we think the pen-paper will continue to serve a role in our workflow. It's a classic case of great hardware being let down by poor software. So, while it will serve i a pinch for ad hoc uses like jotting down phone messages, we'll probably look to get the information copied into our PCs and smartphones for real work as soon as we can.
Paper is no doubt a polarizing technology, and we've found that people either love it or hate it. We asked some other Engadget staffers for some other takes:
Joshua Topolsky: Check out any museum and you'll see a lot of so-called "art" that's been created on paper, but almost none of it has retro '80s 16-bit graphics. That really makes the only good use of it printing out raffle tickets at The Engadget Show.
Nilay Patel: Let's break it down for you. The developers of paper really have a strong case for patent infringement against all these developers of scrollable and foldable screens. Oh, and Joojoo. A good compliment to Sharpie's "permanent" (yeah, right) liquid pencil.
Chris Ziegler: When used with carrier pigeons, paper was one of the earliest forms of wireless communication. I'm now using the Egyptian version of eBay to track down one of the original papyrus scrolls -- still in the original box.
Paul Miller: Without question, a great display, but its lack of pixels essentially means it has zero pixel density. Pass.
Joanna Stern: Love it. A near-perfect mix of light weight and durability, and it doesn't include any Microsoft or Intel stickers. Display has even better contrast than Pixel Qi's. Lack of keyboard may be a deal breaker for many, though.