In a patent application revealed today, Microsoft may have just tipped its hand and shown us what we can expect from the long-rumored Surface Phone — or some next-generation Surface device. The patent application details a “live hinge” which allows a device with two screens to be seamlessly opened flat into a tablet mode, or have one screen folded all the way around back. It’s easier just to show you.
See? The gray part in the middle is the live hinge. It connects both screens and allows the phone to have an unprecedented degree of adjustability. Folded flat, the hinge ensures that both screens connect to each other without too much of an unsightly seam. It would allow you to fold the phone closed like a pocket book, eliminating the need for a clunky protective case.
This hinge also could allow, in certain configurations, a full 360 degrees of rotation. That means the screens could folder further until the screens are “back-to-back,” exposing the touch surfaces on both sides of the device. Such a device would have three modes; closed with no screens exposed, 180 degrees open with both screens conjoined into one larger display, or 360 degrees open with one screen on each side of the device.
In the patent filing itself, Microsoft describes the potential use as a “multi-part device” but the description also includes a specific reference to the size limitations of current single-screen mobile phones. It’s a strong suggestion that this is indeed what we might see out of the rumored Surface Phone.
“Mobile phone displays have increased in size to the point where they can now consume almost an entire front surface of a phone. In some cases, further increases in display size would detract from other capabilities of the devices, such as its pocket-size form factor,” the patent reads.
As we mentioned, it’s not the first time this kind of hinge technology has been hinted at through patent filings. As The Verge reported in December 2017, Microsoft has been toying with these kinds of “live hinges” for a while now. The example in the earlier patent suggests more of a tablet-form-factor device, while this most recent filing looks more like an overlarge mobile phone — kind of like the ones used in HBO’s Westworld.
These patent filings coupled with the files which mention a forthcoming “modular device” category in the latest Windows 10 build seriously suggest that Microsoft’s Surface Phone, or at least some kind of next-generation Surface tablet, is on the horizon.
Here, we get a better look at how it could be used. The thing to really note here is how consistent these drawings are. Between this patent and the earlier one revealed at the end of 2017, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft is has some very specific use-cases in mind for this technology.