Microsoft has always been known as a software company first. Not that it hasn’t put out hardware that carries its brand. But it’s only been a recent change in the way the company views its business, as a way to demonstrate what is possible with well designed and integrated hardware and software. In many respects, Microsoft’s Surface brand has established itself as a premium choice for power users, and other manufacturers are copying the Surface hybrid device design. However, there’s one place that Microsoft hasn’t been successful: smartphones. Could a new patent, unearthed by Twitter user h0x0d, signalling a foldable Surface Phone change that?
It’s been a long, hard road for Microsoft’s mobile ambitions. It and Blackberry were once the main players in the really top end productivity, expensive smartphone market. Then Apple’s iOS and Android came along and established a new order. Microsoft tried to fight back with Windows Phone 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile. But the tide had already gone out, and it felt like Microsoft had built out to see in a dinghy while the other guys had learned how to build cruise liners. Despite good hardware Windows Phone and Windows Mobile never caught on because it was always playing catch up, and without great apps, it just wasn’t going to succeed. A catch 22 situation indeed.
The latest rumours around Windows Mobile is a foldable device patent. Whether it’s aimed to be for a phone or a tablet, it isn’t quite clear. But the design shows a foldable screen with multiple layers. The top layer is flat, while the bottom layers are slightly curved at the fold. Near the fold, the top layer is shaped to refract light coming from below straight up through itself. This creates the optical illusion that the picture is actually flat when viewed from the top layer. This technique could also, according to the patent, be implemented as a method of making multiple tiled screens work together to display a single continuous image. If that comes to pass, can anybody say modular monitors?
Of course, patents don’t actually mean final product, or even that there’s a working prototype somewhere in a secret squirrel lab. But it does mean somebody thought about it, and thinks it might be a viable idea. Microsoft has recently been filing many patents along the foldable Surface phone design. Whatever the truth, Microsoft isn’t the only company working on this form factor. Who will get it to market first?