MSPoweruser discovered last week a new patent filed by Microsoft detailing a foldable device that could turn into either a smartphone or a tablet. Rumors suggest this could be the long-awaited Surface Phone.
Submitted in 2014 by Kabir Siddiqui on behalf of Microsoft, the United States Patent and Trademark Office finally approved Patent No. 9,541,962 on January 10.
Tech enthusiasts claim this could be more than just another concept that will never see the light of day given that Siddiqui is also the author of other Surface-brand products that did launch in the market.
Up to three panels could make up the Surface Phone
USPTO filings show Microsoft might be working on a “Mobile computing device having a flexible hinge structure,” made of up to three panels that could extend to its fullest or fold into a single unit.
The company attached various figures and illustrations to show the versatility of the potential Surface Phone, which would allow for it to be used in different forms.
As a phone, the display could measure 5.5 inches, while the mini-tablet mode could turn it into a 7.9-inch mobile computer, similar to products in the Surface Pro lineup.
For the three-piece variation, Microsoft lists several size configurations following the supposed functionality features: fully folded working as a phone, once expanded as a hybrid device, and fully developed as a tablet.
Dimensions range from conservative 5.58-7.06-9-inches to ludicrous 11.8-14.4-18-inch display sizes. The flexible hinges presumably work as locking mechanisms that keep the device at the preferred usage configuration.
The foldable Surface Phone could compete with LG and Samsung
Several outlets note that the patent findings are not a mere coincidence and that timing is right for Microsoft to launch a Surface Phone this year. However, it could see some competition very soon from other tech giants working on foldable phones.
Last week, news broke that LG and Samsung were also developing flexible devices and that they could arrive sooner than we thought. Samsung’s codenamed Galaxy X could launch by the end of the year, and LG’s handset could follow in early 2018.
Samsung’s foldable phone, however, looks to be more bendable than foldable, unlike the hard parts that make up the alleged Surface Phone prototype seen in the patent filings.
LG’s handset, on the other hand, seems to be developing an entirely new type of device with the flexible screen somehow attached on top of the body. The display retracts itself when folded, giving access to buttons on the back and a fingerprint reader.
Microsoft fans are enthusiastic about the patent discovery since it seems to be in line with the company’s latest philosophy of innovating both inside and out with products that defy mainstream form factors.