Hardware

Microsoft hinged, bendable display patents could create book-like business laptops

The designs were submitted to the US Patent Office in 2016, and could be part of a Microsoft project codenamed 'Andromeda.'

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Microsoft applied for two patents related to a new two-screen, hinged display.
  • The patents are rumored to be part of Microsoft's project 'Andromeda'.

A recently released patent application from Microsoft shows the firm has been hard at work on a bendable, hinged display that would look and work somewhat like a digital version of a paperback book. The applications, filed in 2016 and released last week, seem to be part of a Microsoft project codenamed 'Andromeda.'

According to Windows Central, Andromeda is the long-rumored descendant of Courier, an earlier effort by Microsoft to make a hinged display, smartphone-sized tablet. Some websites believe the project is Microsoft's attempt at putting their foot back in the smartphone market, but others suggest it is more akin to their work with the Surface tablet, which was marketed heavily toward businesses and government organizations.

One of the applications filed showed designs for a curved or bendable display and explained the problems associated with placing video, images or text over a folded space.

"Electronic display technology has undergone rapid growth in recent years. Displays have become larger flatter, brighter, more efficient and capable of true-to-life color at high resolution," the patent application stated. "On the other hand, display technology does not currently leverage advantages of modular design, which is enjoyed in other technological areas."

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In the application, Microsoft explains its plan to solve the problem of bendable displays using an "image-correcting layer."

"The image-correcting layer is configured to transmit light released from the flat face portion of the display matrix and to reorient light released from curved corner portion such that the transmitted light and the reoriented light exit the image-correcting later substantially parallel forming an apparent plane image of pixel series," the application states.

The second patent Microsoft applied for, titled "Input based on interactions with a physical hinge," concerns precisely that: The use of a hinge for a two-screen device.

"Mobile devices provide today's user with a variety of different functionalities, and in many instances allow the user to directly interact with objects displayed via touch-sensitive display devices," the application said. "Devices having multiple display surfaces connected by a hinge, however, introduce complexities that are typically not resolved using conventional gesture input modalities."

Their goal, the patent notes, is to make software that is aware (through input signals) of the device's hinges and is responsive to any changes in angle, how the device is held, its orientation, or how fast it's moving.

"Accordingly, a variety of different input signals can be combined with the hinge interaction to modify the operation associated with the hinge interaction," the application said.

When looked at together, the patent applications show Microsoft is well on its way toward a new, two-screen device that is less like a smartphone and more like their Surface tablets. Zac Bowden of Microsoft Central said it was clear Microsoft was not aiming to disrupt the smartphone market but continue on its path of making devices for business-related purposes.

"Microsoft is going to try and carve out a new, low-volume market for the enterprise, schools, and prosumers/creators," Bowden wrote. "Microsoft did a similar thing with the Surface Studio and original Surface Pro, where it built new device categories for markets that were, at the time, low-volume or non-existent."

In the future, Microsoft could take these patents in many different directions. It could be planning a new dual-touch screen Surface, similar to the Acer Iconia Touchbook, or some sort of digital notebook for presentations. Although, being that they're just patents, Microsoft might be planning nothing at all.

Also see

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Image: Microsoft

About Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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