Clues About Next-Gen Surface Phone Provided By New Microsoft Patent

Microsoft Reportedly Working On iPad 'Touch Cover'
New documents reveal the existence of an "iPad Touch Cover" from Microsoft. Photo : David Ramos/Getty Images

Speculation about Microsoft's plans to re-enter the mobile-device space has been reignited by a newly revealed patent application for a foldable phone.

Microsoft's Patent

Back in the year 2009, Microsoft presented a foldable phone/tablet concept called Courier. However, the project was eventually canceled. But those waiting for the company to take a return on the mobile market may be pleased to hear that Microsoft might be working on designing a foldable mobile phone.

According to ZDNet, in 2014, Microsoft applied for a patent for mobile devices featuring a new type of foldable hinge. Years later, this patent implies the fact that the high-tech company hasn't totally given up the idea of returning in the mobile market.

The website MSPowerUser.com was the one to first notice the patent. This set off speculation that Microsoft might implement the patented technology under the "Surface" banner.

Every tech company applies for and receives many patents and not all of them are for components, services and products that end up becoming part of commercial products. Microsoft makes no exception. However, the inventor listed for the latest Microsoft flexible hinge patent is Kabir Siddiqui. He is known for a number of other hinge-related Microsoft patents, according to website patents.justia.com.

The Microsoft patent that just got recently approved envisions a mobile device with a continuous viewing area extending across the foldable region. This is somehow similar to the Courier concept's dual-screen. 

According to PCWorld, this could be an exciting idea, but there is one major issue. Since this is an old patent from 2014 that the U.S. Patent Office finally approved, it shows that Microsoft was planning ambitious, foldable mobile devices at a time when the market for mobile devices was much more favorable for Microsoft than it is today. Today, while iOS and Android dominate the mobile landscape, Microsoft's mobile market has dropped at well under 1 percent.

Microsoft is not the only major company experimenting with foldable mobile-device concepts. Rumors circulating last week suggested that both LG and Samsung plan to introduce foldable phone models in 2017.

Microsoft's Upcoming Surface Phone

Nevertheless, Microsoft's patent remains intriguing. It shows that phablets are a poor compromise between the large, easy-to-read tablet display and a phone's "pocketability". Microsoft's patent demonstrates that a display could be stretched across a hinge, giving the option of a folded, phone-sized device that could reveal a large screen when unfolded.

This patent could be used to both a mobile display and a desktop, with connections to both a peripheral device and an external display. The Microsoft patent doesn't get into some technical details.

Microsoft fans haven't given up on the idea that Microsoft is developing a Surface Phone in the company's research labs. This patent shows that the upcoming Surface mobile device would be a category-defining product as the original Surface. It won't necessarily be a phone, in line with the current trend on the mobile devices market.

According to tech experts, in case that any kind of foldable Microsoft mobile device does come to market, it is expected to be running company's recently announced Windows 10 on ARM operating system with emulation for x86 built-in. Since the coming ARM operating system implementation is likely deliverable at best in fall 2017, it's not expected that Microsoft will be able to unveil in 2017 anything beyond a possible prototype Surface mobile device.

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