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3/31/2014
10:03 AM
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Sony Reveals 'Digital Paper' Tablet

Sony sees Digital Paper, to ship in May, as a way to get paper-based processes out of legal, education, and government organizations.

Sony showed off Digital Paper, a 13.3" tablet display that uses e-ink technology to render text and graphics, last week at the American Bar Association Techshow in Chicago.

E-ink displays have been eclipsed in the tablet market by LCD displays, the technology used in Apple's iPad and Google's Nexus tablet, but there's still demand for alternative display technologies. Amazon bought Liquavista last year to advance its Kindle hardware, and Qualcomm has been working with its Mirasol technology.

These alternative display technologies tend to be cheaper to produce, more energy efficient, and more readable in direct sunlight. They're not great for games, however. Sony sees Digital Paper as a way to attract business customers who work in paper-intensive environments, but want to move toward online workflows and business processes.

[Want to make your existing tablet more productive? See Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered.]

Bob Nell, director of digital paper solutions at Sony Electronics, describes Digital Paper as "a true replacement for the vast amounts of paper that continue to clutter many offices and institutions," noting that it's easy to use and optimized for reading and annotating contracts and other documents.

The ease of use comes largely from the fact that the device screen can be written on, as if it were a full-sized legal pad. Hopefully, workers have already mastered that skill.

The device accommodates social interaction, too. Its notepad feature allows notes to be shared with colleagues and clients, lessening the cost and time of printing, copying, and distributing physical documents.

Simplicity won't spare customers the cost of buying the device. Sony Digital Paper will be available for $1,100 in May. Digital Paper may be more expensive than Apple's iPad Air, but it's less in terms of weight. Digital Paper is only 12.6 ounces. It measures 9.25" wide by 12.25" tall by 0.28" deep, and can last up to three weeks on a single battery charge. It comes with 4 GB of internal memory, with a microSD card slot for adding extra capacity.

Sony is working with document management service Worldox, which has integrated Digital Paper with its document-management software. The software helps legal professionals access, annotate, and share documents securely. Sony's device displays documents as PDF files, but can convert Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files as needed.

In 2011, InfoTrends estimated that local, state, and federal government offices used 122 billion sheets of paper a year, which amounts to about 389 sheets for every person in the US, based on current population estimates. But the research firm also notes that demand for paper is declining in developed countries.

As devices like Digital Paper proliferate, the mythical paperless office may actually become a meaningful model for environmentally proactive businesses, beyond small tech-centric startups that managed to avoid paper from the outset. But then there's the problem of e-waste once the devices become obsolete.

What do Uber, Bank of America, and Walgreens have to do with your mobile app strategy? Find out in the new Maximizing Mobility issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
3/31/2014 | 10:36:34 AM
Neither fish nor fowl
What an interesting and decidedly odd product.  I love the big, easy to read display and long batterylife, but hate the lack of a keyboard.  The article fails to cover what non-document functionality the device has, but unless it is far more powerful than the average e-reader, it just won't do enough to keep most users happy.  I might give up color for light weight, large screen, and wonderful battery life, but I couldn't give up web browsing, etc.;  in most environments, it wouldn't add enough utility to drag the thing around.  If it is generally an Android tablet with a big e-ink display, and if the outlandish price could be fixed, it might be a non-trivial niche player.
jeph4e
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jeph4e,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2014 | 11:10:42 AM
Exactly What I'm Looking For
Backlit screens cannot replace paper. The old Tablet XP (i.e. Motion Computing circa 2004) used to wonders for note taking and document management.

I've been using Livescribe with great effect but would love to stop the paper use - so this looks like an option for me. Price is less important than functionality.

Looking forward to digital paper.
jgeiss4p
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jgeiss4p,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2014 | 3:19:29 PM
Great idea... but too expensive to "change the world"!
I like the idea. I own a couple of Sony's eReaders, and they completely changed the way that I read books. If I can't get a digital copy of a novel, then I rarely read it anymore!

However, this is MUCH too expensive to change the way that people use paper. This device, at this size, for $99.00 would change the world. Even at $199.00, people would purchase one and try it out. Ideally, in an office environment, you would want several of them available on your desk, tossed around like we currently toss around clipboards and binders. But, at better than $1000.00 each?!? Not a chance.

The fact is that no company could justify getting them for all their employees. To really work, these things would almost have to be 'disposable'... so cheap that it would make more sense to replace a broken one than to worry about getting it fixed.

 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/31/2014 | 4:57:38 PM
Re: Great idea... but too expensive to "change the world"!
The cost is an issue, no doubt. $1,100 buys a lot of paper...
anon8517537417
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anon8517537417,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/31/2014 | 6:16:41 PM
Re: Great idea... but too expensive to "change the world"!
Agreed. Price point is a pipe dream. I never have to freak out because a client dropped a piece of paper or dock an employee's pay for dropping a sheet of paper. This price point is laughable. I could get almost 2 galaxy note pro 12.2's for this price.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
3/31/2014 | 6:56:31 PM
Re: Great idea... but too expensive to "change the world"!
Wow, no kidding. Over $1000? Not a chance for me at least. In comparison, 9.7" Kindle DX: http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-DX-Wireless-Reader-3G-Global/dp/B002GYWHSQ, $199.

That's going to be a pretty hard sell, although the writing part is very cool. I think somebody produced one at one point perhaps, but I've said for a while that eInk (and similar) versus the regular LCD type screens are just too different, and devices picking either one over the other are making a compromise. Of course then, the ideal device perhaps is one with both screens available so you can read on the eInk, and play on the LCD. For that, I might pay $1000. Maybe.

So would I be interested in this if it were half the price? Maybe. It's still a tough sell. The handwriting has to be amazingly better than any other electronic writing surface I've used before. Sadly that won't be hard, but if it's as awful as writing on a glass screen, count me out.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
3/31/2014 | 8:06:11 PM
Re: Great idea... but too expensive to "change the world"!
Given its specs, what do you think is a more appropriate price?
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
3/31/2014 | 10:11:53 PM
Re: Great idea... but too expensive to "change the world"!

"Given its specs, what do you think is a more appropriate price?"

I've been wondering that. Given that it's "just" ePaper, it immediately (to me) needs to be cheap, because it's not a tablet replacement. As I say though, it's possible that the writing functionality is a game changer. Maybe price it similarly to a fruitPad and it may be more reasonable, and only because of its size. It's easier to put a high value on a multi-purpose device than one that seems quite so narrow focused.

 

AdrianDeBarros
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AdrianDeBarros,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2014 | 1:34:07 AM
I evangelized that Barnes and Noble should've pursued this avenue in the Summer of 2013...
Barnes and Noble should have moved away from the Nook tablet market and came out with an advance e-ink slatepad.  They could sell it for 199USD and take back market share from Amazon.  i spoke about this overview here:

http://www.tunnelyou.com/2013/06/idea-this-barnes-and-noble-slatepad.html
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