Microsoft has just patented what looks to be a foldable two-in-one smartphone that can be turned into a tablet. The flexible device, which opens into a tablet-like screen, teases what could be Surface Phone, gleaning from its form factor.
The patent was granted earlier this month, describing a "Mobile Computing Device having a flexible hinge structure," or to put it simply: a smartphone device which can be opened up into a larger device by virtue of its own flexible hinge. Microsoft has a slew of potential form factors for the patented device.
Microsoft's Foldable Smartphone Patent
One illustrated form factor sees the device having two or three panels hinged together. When the sections are fused via their longer edges, it turns into a device that has twice, or even thrice the screen size the device originally started with. By way of flexible displays, the screen would be able to stretch around the hinges and offer a single, undisrupted panel.
In the same patent is an alternative design, this time with a sliding form factor. When collapsed, it looks like any other phone. But users can extend the 5.58-inch screen into a 9-inch tablet simply by sliding the device from one side, which will extend the screen, as if uncoiling it from somewhere.
There's also a notebook-style form factor, alongside a tent design which can already be seen today with 360-degree hinge laptops.
The concepts in the patent line up with Microsoft's efforts to essentially thread smartphone, tablet, and laptop productivity. While its Continuum — attaching peripherals to a phone that turns it into a Windows 10 desktop-style workstations — isn't acquiring much fanfare of late, possibly in part because there are only a few phones — such as the HP Elite x3 — where it's available, Windows 10 running on Snapdragon processors could be the exact ecosystem Microsoft needs to push the idea of Continuum.
Rather than outfit a phone with PC capabilities, why not do it the other way around and turn the PC into a phone? With this in mind, the only thing Microsoft really needs is a phone that has an expandable screen, which can deftly fulfill its PC-in-a-phone concept.
The Ultimate Mobile Device
Of course, just because Microsoft has been granted the patent, doesn't mean it'll go through with the concepts lined out in the documents; it just means they own the idea, and anyone who'll mimic their patented ideas are subject to appropriate litigation. Time and time again, patents have been looked at as simply a foolproof way to prevent companies stealing ideas from one another. More often than not, this is the case, so don't count the patents as any surefire indication of a smartphone and tablet hybrid from Microsoft anytime soon.
Regardless, the foldable hybrid is still a very promising look at what Microsoft could dabble within the future. Maybe this was what Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, was talking about when he said that the company is in pursuit of an "ultimate mobile device," because what's more ultimate than a phone that can literally shapeshift into a tablet? Rumors of the Surface Phone being a tablet further push this notion.
Take a look at the patent's illustrations below.
What do you think of a foldable smartphone and hybrid tablet? Do you think this is the direction Microsoft should take? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!