PaperPhone

I remember playing with a paper phone with my sister when I was in elementary school. I was so jealous of my friend’s brand new, hot pink, Motorala RAZR as I did not have a cell phone at all. I made a paper flip phone, colored it with my pink highlighter, gave one in yellow to my sister and pretended we were some kind of spies on a top secret mission.

That is the paperphone I’m similar with. In the paper, PaperPhone: Understanding the Use of Bend Gestures in Mobile Devices with Flexible Electronic Paper Displays by Lahey, Girouard, Burleson, and Vertegaal, “paper phone” here is the bendable, flexible display technology. It is a field of technology still in development, and only prototypes were developed. In order to gain more understanding about the use of bend gestures in mobile devices with flexible electronic paper displays, many studies were conducted. I was surprised to learn that a few study actually consisted of phones that were literally made out of paper.

This study, in contrast to previous cases, was innovative in a sense that it was the first research on bend gestures interaction using a working flexible display prototype, specifically on mobile devices. The study allowed users to design the their gesture language on their own. Some gestures were emerged more than once among different people, used for similar functions. For instance, bending the right side back and forth to play and pause music, call or drop phone call. Many users preferred simple, less physically demanding gestures as well. These results provide a foundation for intuitive bend gesture design and a useful addition to interaction modalities of future flexible computers.

However, the study definitely has shortcomings in order for the result to be applied for full-flex display. Firstly, the study was conducted using a prototype with a rigid support handle on the left side. This rigid support allowed users only for vertical bend, and two corners on the right. Many more alternative criterion should be explored such as the number of repetitions of bends, orientation of the screen, velocity of bend etc. Due to the rigid support, bending gestures on the horizontal axis was not explored.

If we, however, get rid of the rigid support to explore more bending gestures, there is the problem of holding the device. Holding a flexible, non-rigid display lacks stability in a sense that it is vulnerable to shakes, wind, etc. The user will end up using both hands to stabilize the display — occupying both hands — while rigid display at least allows one hand to be free. Even though we figure out the holding problem, the technology will have to make sure it differentiates the bend caused by holding and bend gesture.

Conducting studies on emerging, yet existing technology is hard. Although the study had its limitations, it provided me a new perspective in thinking about the use of flexible display in computers, and how to design user interaction. I agree with the potential of using flexible display in mobile devices in its portability, numerous form factors, and strong tactile feedback. However, I wonder if it is really necessary, and to what extent flexible display will innovate our interaction with computers. I agree that simply folding or rolling a computer to your desired size or form can significantly improve portability.

However, I wonder how intuitive bend gestures are and how useful they will be. Reading papers and books may feel more “real,” as flexibility of the screen could allow imitation of flipping motion. I can think of games, such as angry bird, using “sling shot” motion, can be more engaging through bend gestures. But how real will the flipping motion feel? Why do some people still choose to print out, write and read on real paper, instead of using tablets? Why do some people still buy books instead of using audible or kindle? Will flexible display really replace paper? How is flexible display going to be more intuitive or easier than touch display? There are so many questions yet to be answered, but it is definitely exciting to see the future of this technology.