The Hippo


Oct 15, 2019








Future past
Technology lets us do old things differently

By John Andrews

I’ve spent the last couple weeks addicted to Words With Friends and Lexulous, Scrabble clones that I play online. Both have Android (and iOS) apps, so even stepping away from my computer provides no relief from the addiction.

It’s sort of weird that I can get so wrapped up in a digital version of a game I have in an armoire in my house that’s been taken out maybe once or twice. But the online version, and especially its mobile app extension, offers a fundamentally different experience. Most of my opponents are distant friends I haven’t seen in person for years. Moves can be made hours or days apart, so we don’t even have to be free at the same time. I also have a dozen games going at any given time.

That same-but-better feeling drives a lot of apps and gadgets. Developers have taken a few different tacks in the quest to replicate one of the most ancient and useful inventions ever: paper.

E-paper has grown steadily better over the last decade or so, and finally hit the big time when Amazon got behind the e-book market. While e-paper used to suffer from dismal contrast and dreadfully slow page turning, newer devices rival actual paper paper in terms of clarity. There are still trade-offs, to be sure, but the hot e-reader market speaks to how willing a lot of folks are to make the switch.

LG is showing off its next step in e-paper, a flexible electronic paper display (EPD) that’s made of plastic. Not only is the display more durable than the glass screens on current e-readers — they hit the thing with a hammer with no breakage — it bends “at a range of 40 degrees from the center of the screen.” So you won’t be folding it up to fit in your change pocket, but if built into a similarly flexible device, it could bend a bit to better fit into your purse. There should be European products with the display in the next month or so.

On tablets, meanwhile, the latest attempt to re-invent paper is a free app called, well, Paper. It’s made by a company named FiftyThree Inc., and while Herbie the Love Bug is not mentioned on their site, I have to believe the number on that spunky Beetle’s hood inspired these self-described creative folks.*

Paper, the app, harkens back to the days of paper journals. The interface is just a piece of paper with no buttons or menus, though somehow you’re able to send your creations to e-mail, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. The included functionality is Draw, which emulates a fountain pen for basic line drawing. You have to purchase other tools via the in-app store, so the Sketch pencil, Outline marker, Write pen and Color brush all cost extra. Just like buying real tools, I guess, so it’s hard to fault them if they’re going for the genuine experience.

None of these innovations can exactly match its original inspiration. Then again, if you want an exact match, you have the original. Maybe you can’t feel the letter tiles or rustle the paper, but you get connectivity and portability in exchange.

*The number seems to reference the supposed 53 centimeters from the head to the heart to the hand, actually. Because that’s the same distance in everybody. I’m sticking with Herbie.

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