Microsoft's next generation of engineers are breathing some new creative life into the company. For the last few weeks a number of very cool Microsoft ideas have been rolling out of the US Patent and Trademark Office. We began this week with a Microsoft patent application covering hand gesturing for future tablets and we'll finish the week off with a new Microsoft invention relating to a two sided smart-device display system for phones, tablets and beyond.
The Evolving Smartphone Interface
Mobile phones, and other small computing devices, are being built with increasingly large display surfaces. While the devices themselves, in general, are smaller than they were several years ago, modern devices devote a relatively larger percentage of the device's surface to the display. Early devices typically had a mechanical keypad for input and a screen to display output. Since the keypad and screen coexisted on the same side of the device, there was a limit as to how large the display could be. While some phones continue to use mechanical keypads (which are favored by some users), advances in touch-screen technology have allowed other devices to omit the keypad entirely in favor of a touch-screen interface that acts as both an input device and a display. This design allows a larger portion of the surface area to be used as a display.
Some devices include more than one display area. For example, some phones with a "flip" or "slide out" design include plural displays--e.g., one large display as the main viewing area, and another smaller display to show a clock, a "message waiting" indicator, etc. In some cases, one of the displays may use less power per viewing area than the other display--e.g., one display may be color and the other may be monochrome (where a monochrome display generally uses less power than a color display).
Despite these designs, phones and other devices generally include less display real estate than they could. There is often a considerable amount of surface area on the device that could accommodate a display, but that is not being used as a display.
Microsoft Envisions Utilizing Secondary Low Powered Backside Display for future Smartphones
Microsoft's invention relates to integrating a second low-power display onto the backside of smartphone or tablet to display certain types of information. One idea is to utilize an electronic ink (e-ink) display on the backside. The use of a low-power display in this manner would free real estate on the device's main display and provides opportunities to show information that would otherwise not be shown.
The use of a low-power display on a device to supplement an ordinary high-power display may reduce the power load on the device (e.g., if some information could be displayed on the low power display when the high-power display is off). Moreover, the combined use of low-power/high-power displays in clever ways could provide a compelling user experience.
Although the subject matter of the invention isn't limited to any particular type of low-power display, some example features of low power displays may include a relatively low refresh rate, and the ability to hold an image indefinitely without the application of power. Thus, low-power displays could be used to display content that changes infrequently--e.g., user-specific "skins" or "tattoos", or moving images that involve relatively slow animation such as a moving diagram of objects in the night sky.
A Smartphone with Two Different Processors
A low-power display could be driven by its own processor. The processor that drives the low-power display could be a relatively low-power processor. In this way, a device could be put in sleep mode to turn off the main processor and the main display, while also allowing the device to perform some computation, and to display the results of that computation, even while the device is in sleep mode. For example, such a configuration could be used to display (and update) the date and time on a device that is otherwise in sleep mode. However, the low-power display could also display content generated by the main processor. Thus, a program could use both the high- and low-power displays to display different aspects of the program's output.
A Secondary Display Could be molded to the Contours of the Smartphone's Design
In another prime example, Microsoft states that a low-power display (such as an e-ink display) could be molded to the contours of a device's surface, thereby allowing the e-ink display to be wrapped around the corners or edges of a device. In this way, portions of a device's surface, which would otherwise go unused, could be used as a display.
Microsoft illustrates a number of items graphically presented on the top backside of the display for convenience. Microsoft states that any type of information could be displayed on the low-powered display. In the example of FIG. 1noted above, the low-powered display 116 displays the time (#124), radio signal strength (#126), WiFi signal strength (#128), and battery meter (#130). This information may be the kind of information that a user would want to see, even if the main display of the device (e.g., touch screen 102) is in sleep mode or even off.
Lastly, Microsoft describes a novel idea for the dual display system. When taking a photo of a person, the backside display of the camera could be set to provide a visual countdown so that the person knows when to freeze that smile: 3-2-1 will appear on the back display and then snap. Although it's a bit gimmicky, it's still kind of a neat idea.
At the End of the Day
In early March a Samsung patent came to light that hinted of a wild concept for smart device-skins that drove the naysayers absolutely crazy. Yet it's apparently a trend that's on the minds of a number of other industry leaders including Nokia and Microsoft.
Microsoft's latest patent spells it out without a cloud of doubt: some future smartphone models will utilize multiple displays at some point in time. At the end of day, it's a trend that's likely to come to life over the coming years whether the naysayers like it or not. And if you've never seen Nokia's concept video on this subject before, then check it out below.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in Q4 2010 and published by the US Patent and Trademark Office this month.
Overview of Example Details
Microsoft's Patent FIG. 4 is a block diagram of some example details of the device.
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