I can’t think of a time when Popular Mechanics hasn’t been promising consumer electronics with flexible displays in some slightly-sexier near-future. Like flying cars, its a technology that perpetually seems just around the corner. What no one has actually tackled is how people would actually use such a device, and what value a flexible screen would provide.
One research group at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario has taken up that question with their PaperPhone project. The phone consists of an e-ink display on flexible plastic with sensors on the back to detect how the device is being bent. In their study, the researchers asked users to use create custom bending motions to accomplish various tasks common to a smartphone. Users could, for instance, bend a corner up or down to move through tracks on the phone’s MP3 player.
The results of the study have been compiled into an academic paper that will be presented tomorrow a the Computer Human Interaction conference. Their work identifies some basic principles about flexible controls — people like easy to understand, easy to execute controls, etc. — though it does not evaluate the usefulness of the interface as a whole. Thankfully, the study’s creators have uploaded a video depicting the PaperPhone in action. Check it out below, and decide for yourself if this will be the hot new technology that supplants multitouch.
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