Over the last few weeks the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a series of three patent applications from Microsoft that reveals that their engineers are working on both traditional and exotic smartphone designs. Microsoft is exploring bendable, foldable and moveable body form factors. When you combine these patents with another that we covered earlier today on the topic of smartphones that could use a 3D Touch / hovering methodology for controlling an interface, it's pretty hard not to realize that the next "Surface" hardware device powered by Windows is likely to be a smartphone.
Patent 1: Bendable Smartphone
In the first of three smartphone patents from Microsoft we look at their bendable smartphone. In Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 noted below we're able to see a schematic side view of a bendable device with a display; FIG. 3E is a side view of a supporting layer comprising a magnetic element with a magnetic core.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 5A noted above illustrates an embodiment with a possible distribution of fastening components #222 on the device body #22, and the fastening areas on the supporting layer 211 (flipped over in relation to the orientation or the body for demonstration purposes). This distribution can be used with studs and magnets.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 5B noted above shows two embodiments with distributions of magnetic elements #51 and #52 across the body. This illustrates that the shape, size and positioning of the magnets #51 can vary and be tailored to a particular bending device. The circular holes in a magnetic shield #52 can provide reduced weight of the body.
Microsoft notes that the flexible electronic devices noted above could be mobile phones, tablets, foldable laptop computers, e-readers and others.
Microsoft introduces a new term worth noting as we're bound to hear it be used more and more in reports over time. Microsoft notes that "In bendable or flexible electronic devices, such as FOLED (Flexible Organic Light Emitting Diode) devices, the display part of the device has to be attached to the main body in a way that does not prevent or resist bending of the device.
Patent 2: Foldable Smartphone or Tablet
In the second of three Microsoft smartphone patents we take a look at their foldable smartphone concept. Here in Microsoft's patent FIGS. 2A and 2B noted above we're able to see a hinged display device which includes two display panels (200a and 200b) separated by a hinge #202.
The hinge may allow the display panels to be moved (e.g., rotated, angled, folded, and/or otherwise displaced) relative to one another. For example, in FIG. 2A, the display device may be held in a book form, such that the two panels are mostly flat relative to one another. In FIG. 2B, the display device may be held in a laptop or handheld device form, such that the two panels are angled at approximately 90 degrees relative to one another. The hinge may allow for any range of motion of one panel relative to the other panel.
The key to this patent is that "the hinged display of FIGS. 2A and 2B may include an arrangement of optical components to obscure a user's view of the hinge. In this manner, the user perceives a seamless or near seamless joint between two adjacent displays."
Patent 3: Smartphone with a Moveable Housing
In this third and final smartphone design from Microsoft we take a look at their most basic model that offers a simple moveable housing design and with a built-in keyboard.
Microsoft notes that a first housing may include a display device that is slideable to expose a second housing having the keyboard. The sliding of the first housing having the display device in this example may cause the second housing having the keyboard to be raised through a linkage. In this way, the keyboard and the display device may be positioned in a substantially similar plane. This may enable the keyboard and the display device to be positioned closer as the bottom edge of the first housing that includes the display device that won't interfere with the user's fingers when typing.
All three of Microsoft's patents were published by USPTO in March 2017. Considering that all three are patent applications, the timing of such products to market is unknown at this time.
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