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Nibbling at the Paper Market: A new battle for electronic paper standards

Microsoft's Tablet PC was launched in November and is being touted as the "breakthrough for pen computing" or recognition of what users write on a screen with a stylus. Apple introduced a similar (ver...

January 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Microsoft’s Tablet PC was launched in November and is being touted as the “breakthrough for pen computing” or recognition of what users write on a screen with a stylus. Apple introduced a similar (very expensive) device in the early 90’s as the ill-fated Apple Newton. Similar devices are used today in a number of Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Microsoft sees their device as handy for filling out forms using their new software application “xDocs.” “xDocs” will turn MS Office into a corporate data-gathering tool for salespersons and other mobile field workers. Meanwhile Adobe, best known for its digital publishing software, has similar designs on electronic paper. They are planning to release a set of programs that will allow organizations to replace paper documents with digital ones, and to integrate them with enterprise software. This will be attractive for government agencies and for firms in highly regulated industries, such as financial services and insurance. Regardless of who wins this battle, it seems clear that electronic forms will be a successful paper replacement niche because they combine the advantages of digital technology for organization with the familiarity of the paper format. The use application where information is collected in a formatted organization for storage and processing is not an area where paper is sustainable as the preferred medium.

Paper still comes out on top for creative applications such as ordering thoughts, solving problems and making plans. This is because the user is not confined to a small window interface with the information under study — the digital screen display. Using paper enables spatial organization over the desktop or working space. The ability to view many “windows” at the same time is critical for the creative process. It enables new information linkages to be detected and analyzed. There are software systems that attempt to duplicate this process and in the future, it is probable that artificial intelligence software will duplicate at least a part of the creative connection process for problem solving. Synectics, Kepner Tregoe, and Ideation Methodology are three of many problem solving products. There is also a commercial software package (Ideation/TRIZ Methodology) based on a Russian problem-solving protocol that claims to help promote these “connections.”

Why is this important?


There is still a lot of “tech push” flavor about the Microsoft and Adobe offerings and they will likely only become pervasive in professional rather than personal settings. The small screen in mobile phones and PDA devices does not appear ideally suited to these new products. Nevertheless Microsoft and Adobe are companies to watch for new directions in “electronic paper.” Some other e-paper happenings: Audible.com supply low-cost audible books and a free 64MB player; Logitech introduced a cloth PDA case that unfolds into a keyboard and a pen that captures handwritten notes in digital form; Dell is creating a new low-cost standard for PDA’s. On the bigger question of electronic paper substitutes, it seems unlikely that there will be any dramatic paper market loss. Rather, it is more likely to be a case of “slow nibbling at the vulnerable edges.” It is important for companies to closely scrutinize the spaces where paper use in their business area is vulnerable to the nibbling and where it is “safe.” It is also prudent to go beyond “safe” and find the new paper-use values that may meet unarticulated consumer needs. That is, creating the orange, or the peach, in the pile of apples.

Alan Procter is a Senior Consultant working with organizations to find creative solutions in a rapidly changing business environment. He can be reached at futureviews@alanprocter.com

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