Is Surface Phone Coming Soon with a Foldable Design? Patent Reveals Multilayer Display

surface phone patent foldable smartphone and tablet hybrid

According to several recent reports, Surface Phone could come with a foldable design. Being skeptics, we naturally want to put that claim to the test. And it doesn’t look too good.

The latest reports from multiple sources showcase a patent granted to Microsoft that shows a foldable design for a smartphone and a multilayer display. Essentially, the multiple layers are meant to give the user an optical illusion when the phone is unfolded into a tablet-sized device. When open, the ‘hinge’ or “support structure at the edge of the display panel,” as Microsoft’s patent states, will be almost invisible because of the “curved or otherwise bent regions” at the edge of the display.

Here’s the tweet from Walking Cat (@h0x0d) that sparked it off:

A good analogy would be an open book that has text or an image running across both pages. Basically, the patent shows that Microsoft wants to ‘camouflage’ the center area so the image or text can be seen stretching seamlessly from one page over to the next. To get that effect, they intend to use the curvature on the inner edges of both display panels.

While it’s true that Microsoft does have such a patent, in no way does that indicate that Surface Phone will have this feature. Microsoft last year was granted no less than 2,398 patents. That doesn’t mean every one of those will be implemented. Even as recently as January, another patent filing from Microsoft was unveiled that showed a foldable smartphone-like device.

As such, we believe this might be mere speculation based on a theoretical design. No reliable source seems to have seen even a working prototype of such a phone from Microsoft, so if there are plans to launch such a device, we would have heard something from vendors in the supply chain by now. These same vendors happily leak information about upcoming iPhones and Galaxy devices, so there’s no reason they would keep quiet about a tidbit on Surface Phone, especially with the heightened anticipation in the market right now for such a device.

On the other hand, Microsoft could be planning to use this design idea on future smartphones or even as a technology leap for future Surface Pro models. From that perspective, it would make sense to have a tablet that can be folded up into a smartphone-like device, which would then have another display on the outer side that would essentially ‘kick in’ when the device is folded.

Theoretically, Microsoft could have a convertible tablet that either folds in to become a smartphone, or attaches to a keyboard to become a laptop.

Now THAT would be a truly revolutionary mobile device. But it’s not going to happen this year for sure. If it is, we’d have definitely heard about it one way or another. There are no secrets in device manufacturing these days, and you know that’s true because a lot of the features that eventually came to Apple’s iPhone 7 and the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus were leaked weeks and months before the devices were unveiled to the public.

So, unless Microsoft has a nuclear bunker type secret manufacturing facility where the scientists, engineers and workers are cloistered for months on end with no access to the outside world, I think it’s safe to rule out that possibility.

There’s also the potential delay to be considered. If Microsoft and Qualcomm can’t work out the kinks in the x86 emulation on ARM functionality very soon, it is expected that Surface Phone may experience a significant delay. We’ve covered that in this article below:

Ex Microsoft Employee Says Surface Phone Faces Massive Delay, Is it True?

Our take is that the basic design work on Surface Phone may already be complete, but a lot could change based on the engineering challenges as well as functionality challenges currently facing the device.

We don’t really buy into the theory of a foldable Surface Phone coming from Microsoft this year – or next year, for that matter. That type of innovation is best left to Samsung, which seems to have made quite a bit of progress on that already, or even LG. Though LG may well provide flexible smartphone OLED displays to Apple, Google and Microsoft in 2018 per a report last year on Tech Times, there’s a very slim chance that Microsoft will risk using such technology on such an important device as Surface Phone.

For now, all we’re hoping for is that Microsoft and Qualcomm designers, engineers and developers are able to pull off what could possibly be the next evolutionary leap in smartphone technology – a cellular PC that represents true mobility as defined by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and as announced by Microsoft and Qualcomm late last year.

As for the Surface Phone release date, we’re fairly certain that the earliest possible date will be after the Redstone 3 update is ready for release. Windows 10 Creators Update is what used to be known as Redstone 2, and that’s only coming out next month to the general public.

That means at least another 6-8 months before the next one goes through the grind of multiple Insider preview builds and comes out of the other side as a major Windows 10 update. That puts the Redstone 3 public release between October and December 2017 and the Surface Phone release shortly after that.

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