After Two Millennia, the End of the Paper Era

Computers have been promising the demise of paper for decades. but have either failed to deliver or increased the use of paper because of wasteful printing.  The concept of eliminating paper was right, but the technology was too immature and too expensive.  Seventeen years after the failed launch of the first Apple tablet called the Newton, which sold for $699 ($1041 adjusted to inflation), Apple launched the wildly successful iPad at a starting price of $499.

The iPad had nearly ten times the pixel count, hundreds of times the computing performance, hundreds of times the memory, and gigabytes of storage where the Newton had nothing.  The performance and features delivered for the price made the promise of tablet computing a reality.  The tablet is now compelling enough that airlines are using iPads to replace 18 pounds of paper charts.  NFL football teams are adopting the iPad as an electronic playbook and “film” replacement.

Apple isn’t the only factor in the demise of paper.  The Amazon Kindle now costs as little as $114 and offers access to a vast library of electronic books.  While the resolution isn’t as good as paper and many people still prefer the look, feel, and even the smell of paper, the portable size and weight of the electronic reader is compelling enough to push eBook sales above paperback book sales.

As the price of tablet computers drop rapidly, more and more people (even the computer illiterate) will adopt computers and mobile Internet services because of the mobility and human friendly user interface.  This has huge and positive implications for the computing and communications industry.  While the use of paper will not completely die out for some time, this is unquestionably the beginning of the end for paper.