Where is my Scroll?

I have just bought a new 27" Apple IMac. My old IMac is still working after almost eleven years but it is showing its age. The IMac is overpriced but not so much so that I would buy a Windows machine.

So far, I am happy with my choice, but unhappy with the technology. What I would have really liked was a scroll.

Where is my Scroll?

The main components of a personal computer are the microprocessor, primary storage, secondary storage, display, power supply and devices for data entry and control.  Not all of these have developed at the same pace.

Microprocessors have followed Moore's Law, and reached a stage where most users have enough processing power. Random access memory has become much cheaper, and most personal computers have several gigabytes of RAM. More is always useful, but random access memory is not a constraint for most users.

Secondary storage has become much cheaper and disk capacities have increased.

The two areas of the personal computer which have hardly developed at all are the display and battery life. We have we moved from CRT displays to flat panels but we still have to choose between large displays which are tethered to the desktop, or displays which are portable, but too small. Batteries still have too short a life.

We don't need more powerful processors or bigger hard disks. What we do need are large portable displays that do not need much power. Some form of electronic paper may be the solution.

When large flexible displays are available at a reasonable cost we will see the development of devices such as the scroll.

Bob's scroll 

It’s one of those hectic mornings. Bob’s stress level was already sliding into the danger zone before he stepped off the elevator – and that was two mind-numbing meetings ago.

Thankfully, his next meeting isn’t for half an hour, so Bob sneaked downstairs to the local coffee bar and ordered a chilled espresso and cream. He found a comfortable chair and opened his scroll; a plastic film wrapped around a 400mm long and 12mm diameter metal tube.

Bob unrolled a single sheet of plastic less than 0.3 millimeters thick from the tube. A shake of his wrist turned the sheet rigid. With a squeeze of his thumb on the bottom corner Bob selected a business magazine from a pop-up menu of various newspapers and magazines to which he subscribes. Instantly, his ultra-thin display displayed the magazines latest front page.

Bob flipped through the electronic pages to his favorite columnist and relaxed into his chair. Just as he was getting to the fun part of the piece, a tiny icon begins to flash in the top corner of his screen. He tapped the icon with his finger, which fades the newspaper into the background and brings his e-mail to the forefront.

After a quick scan of the messages, Bob squeezed the bottom corner of the screen and selected the keyboard option from the menu. Instantly, the bottom third of his electronic display showed a computer keyboard. After placing the display on the tabletop, Bob began to type replies to the more urgent messages.

Just as he catches up, another icon appears. With a tap, his e-mail program fades into the background and the face of his personal assistant appears. Her lips are already moving.

Bob tapped his ear to turn on his Bluetooth earbud and caught her words midstream.

His next client is early. Bob quickly retrieved a copy of the client's spreadsheet from the company servers and checked the latest figures.

With a sigh, Bob rolled the screen back around its tube. He’ll need to catch up with the columnist at another time.

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