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Microsoft's new collapsible keyboard design unveiled by U.S. patent office

A patent published yesterday appears to shed some light on a new tablet keyboard solution being developed by Microsoft. The design offers a method of combining a protective case, keyboard peripheral, and kickstand into one collapsible cover.

At present, the kickstand of the Surface Pro 4 is built into the device itself. This newly patented case would eliminate the need for such a component, which means that future Surface devices could potentially utilize a sleeker physical form factor similar to that of Apple’s iPad line.

The change may allow Microsoft to reduce the thickness of the Surface tablet going forward, according to a report from MS Power User.

Related: Newly revealed Microsoft patent may support a Surface all-in-one modular desktop

However, it remains to be seen whether users will agree that this change is for the better. While some would jump at the chance to remove the ungainly kickstand from their tablet, others would argue that it’s a utilitarian addition that makes the Surface a little more adaptable than some of its competitors.

There’s another reason why Surface users might be wary of the new cover design — the keyboard depicted in images submitted to the patent office doesn’t feature a touchpad. Of course, the tablet interface can stand in for a conventional laptop touchpad, but one of the biggest selling points of the Surface line is that it can operate as a laptop or as a tablet with a minimum of compromise.

Of course, it’s possible that this design is in fact intended for the company’s long-rumored Surface Phone. The patent only mentions compatibility with a “computing device,” rather than specifying that the cover would be used with a tablet, and the size constraints of a smartphone accessory would explain why the touchpad is omitted.

One thing is very clear — Microsoft is committed to giving users an array of different ways to use Windows 10 devices on the go.