A patent filing from Microsoft is upping the ante on folding devices with more than one screen by adding a third screen to the mix.

The conceptual drawings in the patent show a device that folds just like a laptop, but with the addition of a small strip of screen built into the hinge. The information on the third screen will vary based on the state of the hinge, the patent said.

As is always the case with patents, a filing and publication is no indication that the device or technology in question will be realized. Microsoft may simply be attempting to prevent other hardware manufacturers from producing their own hinge display devices–we can’t even say for sure it has a working prototype.

SEE: Mobile Computing Policy (Tech Pro Research)

If Microsoft is planning to release a folding device with a third screen it would address many of the questions surrounding folding tablets, namely how two screens become one when the device is in tablet mode. A third display without a bezel, and assuming the other two screens don’t have one either, could be precision built to give a convincing illusion of one seamless display.

How Microsoft would use its third screen

The patent shows Microsoft’s conceptual device in a variety of configurations and makes note of how the third screen would work in all of them:

  • When in tablet mode the third screen would “bridge the first screen region and second screen region together to provide a visually continuous image,” or serve as a “visual divider” between region one and two.
  • If screen one is displaying one application and screen two another, screen three could display information “that indicates how to move interface elements related to the first application from the first screen region to the second.”
  • The third screen could display information that simplifies multitasking.
  • When the device is closed the third screen would still be visible, and could potentially wrap around the hinge to give it three distinct surfaces (top, side, bottom), each of which could display different details, alerts, and notifications.
  • While in a laptop state, the third screen could display additional controls (like the MacBook touch bar).
  • When the device is opened so the screens are back to back, the third screen could display supplemental information from apps on the screen facing away from the user.
  • When in a book state (held vertically), the third screen “may represent the spine of a book,” as well as displaying notifications and responding to gesture controls that add bookmarks.
  • If placed in a tent state (with both screen facing out and the hinge on top), the third screen would display virtual controls for one or both screens.

Microsoft has thought of a variety of uses for the potential third screen, but whether or not it will appear in an actual product is anyone’s guess. If Microsoft does decide to produce a three-screen device there may just be a future for folding tablets or supersized phones, which could make working on the go even easier–just unfold your phone and you have a small laptop ready to go.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Microsoft filed a patent for a three-screen folding device. The third screen would be attached to the hinge and be context-dependent, responding to the positions of the other two screens and the hinge.
  • Patent filings aren’t indicative of a planned device, but Microsoft shouldn’t let this one languish–it could make folding touchscreen devices a practical reality instead of leaving them with blank space in the middle of the screens.

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