Back in January of this year, Apple's Peter Oppenheimer stated that the iPad was continuing "its unprecedented adoption in business. Nearly all the top companies within major Fortune 500 markets, including pharma, manufacturing, hospitality, consumer products, financial services, healthcare and retail were actively using the iPad to improve workflows, business processes and customer engagement." Some of the companies that Oppenheimer pointed out included the likes of Royal Dutch Shell, Credit Suisse, Kimberly-Clark, St. Jude Medical, Nike, Danske Bank and Facebook. Adding to this, John Paczkowski of All ThingsD reported that 95% of the tablets going into the Fortune 500 Companies were iPads. Is it clear enough that Apple is focusing on the Fortune 500 and the enterprise market in general? Yes it is and it's why Steve Ballmer stated recently that Microsoft wasn't "going to leave any space uncovered to Apple." He later added that "We have our advantages in terms of enterprise management," reported CRN. In June, Microsoft introduced their upcoming line of tablets that will be marketed under the "Surface" brand name. Microsoft is seriously getting into tablet hardware and in today's report we cover yet another aggressive Microsoft patent that illustrates their intent to bring collaborative tools to the tablet. Some of the noted tools will promote video conferencing on multi-panel tablet displays supporting both private and shared workspaces so that colleagues will be able to collaboratively work together remotely on documents in real-time. The enterprise is Microsoft's core market and they're ready to fight Apple to the finish. A clash of the tech titans will certainly push both companies to wildly innovate on accelerated roadmaps that in the end will benefit all consumers.
Microsoft's Quick Patent Overview
Different tools exist to facilitate interactive sessions among a group of participants. For example, video conferencing tools allow the participants to view audio-video representations of remote fellow participants. Collaborative workspace tools allow the participants to cooperatively work on shared information, such as a shared document or the like. However, these tools are often implemented as separate stationary computing equipment which may not offer a satisfactory user experience in all circumstances.
Microsoft's Proposed Solution
In one respect, Microsoft's invention describes multiple devices having two or more displays joined together to form a booklet-styled tablet very much in line with their dropped project dubbed the "courier" tablet. The coupling mechanism associated with their new design concepts aren't described in this patent – but they could be found under Microsoft's patent application 20120162866.
In patent FIG. 4 noted above, we see a hinge specific mechanism described as a double hinge radial cam. Microsoft states that the portable device associated with the new hinge could be in any form of consumer product such as a phone, television, appliance, gaming device, media playback and/or other electronic device. In our current patent, the cam will be used as part of a communications system tablet that takes on the form of a book.
What's being described in the patent boils down to an electronic book-styled tablet having a built in video conferencing system. The system consisting of several sophisticated processing modules as outlined below:
(a) Shared workspace processing module: A shared workspace processing module provides a shared workspace. That is, the shared workspace is shared by at least two participants of the interaction session. The participants can collaboratively work on a shared task using the shared workspace. That is, the participants can work on the shared workspace at the same time and/or asynchronously (e.g., at respective different times).
(b) Private workspace processing module: A private workspace processing module presents a private workspace for private use by the local participant. The private workspace processing module may allow a user to move objects from the private workspace to the shared workspace, e.g., by dragging these objects from a private display section to a shared display section of the local computing device.
(c) Audio-video conferencing module. An audio-video conferencing module captures an audio-video representation of the local participant. Further, the audio-video conferencing module displays an audio-video representation of one or more remote participants of the interaction session. In one implementation, the computing device can devote different display parts to providing representations of different respective remote participants.
(d) A reference space module: A reference space module captures a representation of local hand gestures made by the local participant in proximity to a display surface of the display mechanism. The reference space module also displays a representation of remote hand gestures made by at least one remote participant in proximity to a remote display surface associated with a remote computing device operated by the remote participant.
(e) Mode selection module: A mode selection module selects which processing modules are activated at each identified time of operation.
A Future Tablet may Provide Dual Cameras, Project & Define a Capture Frustum
In one implementation, the computing device can provide at least two image sensing mechanism (of any type) at different respective locations on the computing device. This allows the computing device to define a capture frustum that projects out from the computing device. This is illustrated in patent point 320 of patent FIG. 3 shown below.
Microsoft states that this allows, for instance, the video input mechanism(s) to capture images of the local participant's face (as shown by feature 322), and the depth sensing mechanism(s) to capture images of the local participant's hand gestures, etc. This also allows the stereo sensing input functionality to capture stereo images of objects in front of the display surface, or, more generally, in proximity to the local computing device. Microsoft's patent Figure 4 represents a larger format electronic book format than patent FIG. 3.
Triple Display Device with Video Conferencing Capabilities
Microsoft's patent FIG. 5 shows a tablet with three joining displays instead of two like the others. In one configuration, the e-book styled tablet of FIG. 5 can present audio-video representations of two remote participants on the far left and far right display parts, respectively. The local computing device/e-book styled device can devote the middle display part for presenting the shared workspace and the private workspace. Patent FIG. 3 illustrates the device being folded. The cameras on the reverse side could capture the user's surrounding including landmarks and people.
Presentation Module Options & Features
The next series of figures describe different ways that the presentations furnished by different processing modules can be arranged on different respective display sections
In Microsoft's patent FIG. 7 shown below we're able to see a local computing device 700 with two device parts (702, 704) and two corresponding display parts (706, 708). The local computing device presents a shared workspace 710 on the first display (#120 of patent figure 1). A user may interact with the shared workspace in any manner, such as by providing pen input events via a pen device. The local computing device presents a video representation 714 of a remote participant on the second display. .
In patent FIG. 8 shown below we're able to see a remote user making a gesture by pointing to something in a document in their shared workspace. The user is looking at and pointing to something in a shared document to share with a colleague. The reference space module (#126 of Patent FIG. 1) of the remote participant's computer device captures this gesture using a depth sensing mechanism (or other mechanism).
The reference space module of the local computing device presents a shadow image 802 of the hand gesture, overlaid on the shared workspace. In one case, the reference space module can present the hands (shadow images) of different remote participants using different colors and transparency levels to help the local participant understand the association between shadow images and remote participants.
In Microsoft's patent FIG. 10 shown above we see another workspace example whereby a user clicks on a link or object (1012) that is then opened up in the second display on the opposite side of the device. In another scenario that is shown in patent FIG. 11 above, the local computing device 1100 presents a private workspace 1112 on a bottom display section of the left display 1106. The shared workspace 1110 is shared among participants while the private workspace is dedicated for exclusive use by the local participant (and is not revealed to remote participants).
Future Multipart Tablets Could Include Detachable Displays & Projectors
In describing Microsoft's patent FIG. 13 below, they clearly state that in one embodiment of the invention it'll be possible to detach the displays (1302 & 1304). Although Microsoft says that the display could be held together in some cases with a latch, hinge, sliding member or clasp, one must remember Microsoft's Surface tablet presentation where we saw them introduce a tablet cover involving attachment magnets that were very much like those used by Apple's Smart Cover.
So in this scenario, instead of attaching a tablet cover, Microsoft hints that in the future you'll be able to add a second display to your tablet that's just that, a display and not another full tablet. Microsoft puts it this way: "Alternatively, the two device parts (1302, 1304) may not include identical functionality." The detachable tablet displays may also be attached to a desktop display to form a larger display or display system for presentations as further described in patent FIG. 14 below.
In Microsoft's patent FIG. 14 we see a local computing device 1400 having three detachable device parts (1402, 1404, and 1406). In one use case, the user can decouple these device parts and arrange them in the manner shown in FIG. 14. The device parts 1402 and 1406 can present visual representations of two remote participants, while the middle device part 1404 can present a shared workspace.
In addition, or alternatively, the middle device part can include one or more projection modules (not shown); for example, a projection module can project an image of the shared workspace (and/or a private workspace, and/or any other content) on a table or a wall. The local participant (user) can arrange the other device parts with respect to this projection in any manner deemed conducive to interactive communication.
Generally, the modular approach shown in FIGS. 13 and 14 also provides an extensible design. That is, a user can enhance the functionality of a computing device at any time by acquiring another device part and attaching that device part to the existing device parts. Similarly, the user can remove a device part (or parts) at any time to simplify the computing device.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in Q4 2010 and published by the US Patent and Trademark Office in Q2 2012. Other patent reports covering Microsoft's aggressive push into tablets for the enterprise include the following:
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