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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

It's Coming: A True Replacement for Paper

Whether or not NoteSlate ever produces a real product, no barriers remain to a competitor building a tablet purpose-built for sketching and note-taking.

  • July 20, 2011

The notoriously secretive, English language-challenged, and so far entirely vaporware company NoteSlate just rumbled to life on its Twitter account, announcing that the company had finally discovered the technology required to realize its vision. Unfortunately, the technology would mean exceeding the device’s originally planned price of $99.

The NoteSlate sketching tablet is coming, even if it won’t be built by NoteSlate.

The fact that this makes the company, which is apparently nothing more than a website set up by 29-year-old Czech product and furniture designer Martin Hasek, no more likely to ever release a working version of its inexpensive note-taking tablet is irrelevant. Hasek has already completed all the market research any competitor would ever need to justify coming out with a working clone of his vision, and they will.

The Long Nose of Innovation: Bill Buxton

To understand the forces at work here, it helps to understand Bill Buxton’s concept of the “long nose” of innovation. The metaphor here is that the “next big thing” is already with us, and it’s just slowly poking its nose out before it comes fully into view. Technologies that will be disruptive in the next 10 years are all around us at the research and development stage, because that’s how long it takes to perfect a technology and get it to market.

And the already visible “nose” of a viable, inexpensive technology required to realize a tablet that could fully replace paper was just highlighted by Hasek.

Most e-paper has abysmally low refresh rates, far too slow to trace the movement of a stylus on a tablet. But as Hasek pointed out in response to questions from eager fans, the Bridgestone QR-LPD e-paper technology is more than fast enough to do the trick.

So far, Bridgestone’s e-paper efforts have gotten a bum rap on account of the company’s attempts to sell their screens as an admittedly washed-out alternative to other color e-paper technology. But in grayscale mode, it appears that QR-LPD might be more than adequate for a device like the NoteSlate. What’s more, its refresh rate, in evidence at 0:19 in the following video, is more than fast enough to accommodate note-taking and sketching.

Many other e-paper displays with similar refresh rates are already on their way. What’s significant about e-paper that refreshes fast enough to play video is that it could also be fast enough to respond in a realistic manner, which is exactly what tablets already accomplish, albeit at a much coarser resolution.

Other examples of this technology have already materialized in the form of the countless styluses and note-taking apps for the iPad, the LiveScribe pen computer, and even a ginned-up Magna Doodle for gadget-obsessed adults calling itself the e-note.

What all of these efforts suggest is that there is a very real market desire to digitize absolutely everything, even that last bastion of analog functionality, the blank sheet of paper and the writing device of your choice. Nothing quite satisfies, yet the technology to accomplish the recording and transmission of our every doodle more or less exists already. All that’s left is for an OEM to distill those parts into just the device for which consumers have already demonstrated a desire.

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