Folding Surface Phone Concept Revealed In Microsoft Patent


For all of Microsoft's successes in hardware (Surface Pro and Surface Book are both great devices), it has never been able to make an impact in the mobile phone market. The failure to do so was underscored at the end of last year when Microsoft decided to stop selling Lumia handsets at its Microsoft Store. Be that as it may, Microsoft has never said it's getting out of the phone hardware business completely. Perhaps the company is waiting for the right moment, or the right innovation. With regards to the latter, a newly published Microsoft patent points to a foldable Surface Phone on the horizon.

Microsoft has hinted in the past that it might bring a Surface Phone to market at some point. However, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that he doesn't want kick out just another run-of-the-mill smartphone that looks and functions like every other device out there, but one that is unique in some aspect.

"We don't want to be driven by just envy of what others have, the question is, what can we bring? That's where I look at any device form factor or any technology, even AI," Nadella last November. "We will continue to be in the phone market not as defined by today's market leaders, but by what it is that we can uniquely do in what is the most ultimate mobile device."

Microsoft Patent Folding Display

Lo and behold, there's an interesting patent Microsoft filed back in 2015 that was just recently published. It shows a device that folds in half and is reminiscent of the Courier, a foldable tablet Microsoft was working on and ultimately abandoned several years ago.

This is not the first time Microsoft has filed a patent for what could be a folding Surface Phone. Just two months ago it was discovered that Microsoft filed a patent for a "Mobile Computing Device Having a Flexible Hinge Structure." The patent showed a smartphone with a side-mounted hinge that opens up to reveal an uninterrupted, large display surface that would be suitable for tablet chores.

Microsoft Patent Display

In the patent we're looking at here, Microsoft goes on to describe a multi-layered display with tiled panels featuring a curve at the edge. The curve is intended to draw light away from the gaps, which would create an optical illusion of one continuous image.

"In display devices such as tiled displays or hinged displays, where multiple display panels may be included and separated by one another via the support structure, the visibility of the support structure may hinder a user's perception of displayed objects," Microsoft states in its patent application.

"In order to reduce and/or obscure the visibility of a support structure for a display panel, the present disclosure provides example display devices including curved or otherwise bent regions for directing light to a user's eye when the user's gaze is directed to a support structure at an edge of the display panel. In this way, when a user is viewing a region occupied by the support panel, the user may instead see light from the display panel showing the displayed objects," Microsoft continues.

In this way, Microsoft could create a folding phone with multiple active displays appearing as a single, continuous image. It's an interesting idea, though if the diagrams are to scale, there's the question of ergonomics—it looks rather large to function as a phone. There is also the question of how thick this thing would be when folded.

As always, having a patent doesn't necessarily mean a product will follow. However, when it comes to the oft-rumored Surface Phone, it's fun to speculate though, isn't it?