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Microsoft patent features 'hinge gestures,' curved-display correction for rumored 'Andromeda' PC

It's an open secret that Microsoft's engineers are obsessed with hinges (so much so those who work in the area are called "hingineers"), which makes these new patent applications unsurprising. Still, the focus on a foldable mobile device that happens to fit in your hands – and the ramifications of this interaction model – does give hints at what is believed to be Project Andromeda.

The patent applications both published on April 26, 2018 (and spotted by @stevenwlack) address two major concerns for a device with a foldable display:

  1. Input based on interactions with a physical hinge
  2. How light and images are corrected where the display curves

The first patent application US 2018/0113520 A1 shows in its accompanying images a now-familiar design: a mobile device that comfortably fits in both hands, but folds in the center of the display.

The question Microsoft is attempting to answer is how holding a device with two hands (both displays) versus closed – and the degree of the angles – affect usage models with the OS. Or, as the application puts it:

Mobile devices provide today's user with a variety of different functionalities, and in many instances allow the user to directly interact with objects displayed via touch-sensitive display devices. Devices having multiple display surfaces connected by a hinge, however, introduce complexities that are typically not resolved using conventional gesture input modalities.

An image from Microsoft's new patent application looks very familiar.

An image from Microsoft's new patent application looks very familiar.

Consequently, a typical gesture language may be inefficient for these devices given the ergonomics of holding and interacting with such a device. This can detract from user enjoyment and lead to user frustration when using these types of devices.

Microsoft then proposes what could be summarized as "hinge gestures" where the hardware and operating system are aware of the hinge, orientation, how the user is holding it and more. Again, from the application of the patent:

In some implementations, interactions with the hinge can be combined with one or more additional input signals to modify an operation associated with the hinge interaction. These additional input signals can include a variety of different input signals, such as an indication of an orientation of the device, a velocity at which the hinge interaction is performed, touch signals indicating how the user is holding the device, and so on. Accordingly, a variety of different input signals can be combined with the hinge interaction to modify the operation associated with the hinge interaction.

The reason Microsoft would want such a system is to make the OS radically smarter: "Use of an approximate hinge angle to switch between two or more discrete views of content or UI on one or more connected display screens, such as switching between different views of a dataset or showing/hiding chrome elements."

That language sounds a lot like Microsoft's Cshell – the adaptable UI that is the extreme version of Continuum where the OS adjusts its content based on the screen size, device, orientation and more.

The second application is a little less exciting, but still very important. US Patent application US 2018/0113241 A1, also published on April 26, 2018, is concerned with how images on a display where it curves are viewed.

More specifically, whereas displays are now very good at presenting accurate information when flat how that content is displayed when it begins to curve can be problematic (think of astigmatism for eyesight and the need for corrective lenses).

The patent application uses a lot of jargon, but the important part is here:

"An electronic display comprises a display matrix, an image-correcting layer, and a luminance-correcting layer. The display matrix includes a flat face portion, a curved corner portion, a light-releasing surface, and a series of pixels extending across the flat face portion and around the curved corner portion. Coupled to the light-releasing surface of the display matrix, the image-correcting layer is configured to transmit light released from the flat face portion of the display matrix and to reorient light released from the curved corner portion of the display matrix such that the transmitted light and the reoriented light exit the image-correcting layer substantially in parallel, forming an apparent plane image of the series of pixels. Arranged between the light-releasing display surface and the image-correcting layer, the luminance-correcting layer is configured to deflect the light released from the curved corner portion into an acceptance profile of the image-correcting layer."

Microsoft here is concerned with making the OS and content look the same as the flat portion of the display compared to where it curves. Again, that may seem trivial, but it is a complicated problem that needs to be solved by an "image-correcting layer" to give the illusion that the image is not curving.

My quick analysis

Image from Microsoft's June 2017 patent application.

Image from Microsoft's June 2017 patent application.

Both patents continue a massive series of applications and attempts by Microsoft to invent new technology around devices that fold in the middle of the display.

Project Andromeda is both a hardware project and software one with the latter focused on Windows Core OS as a stripped down, mobile version of full Windows 10 made for future handheld devices.

Since last year, we have been calling Andromeda the spiritual successor to the fabled Microsoft Courier project from 2010. While not a "Surface phone" the device is meant to kick off another form factor for computers that merge the best of smartphones with the best of tablet PCs for a more modern world. While the device is question can make phone calls it likely won't be positioned as a phone, but rather a digital Moleskin notebook.

It is clear from both patent applications – especially the first one – exactly the type of computer Microsoft has in mind. Think of a small Surface PC that folds in half with a light, modern OS that adjusts content based on its position.

Apps that have dual screen support to simulate a digital notebook are one application, whereas other times the user may want a full screen, e.g., for the OS. How the device handles the OS when going to "one" screen or two is something that needs to be solved if the experience is to be smooth and natural.

Whether or not Project Andromeda sees the light of day remains to be seen, but the sheer amount of research, engineering, and even paperwork around the concept is becoming daunting.

Despite Microsoft having a few Surface devices under its belts Project Andromeda seems the most complicated with more patent applications (e.g. this one, this one, this one, and definitely this one) filed for its underlying technology than any other Surface we have seen to date.

Hopefully, we'll hear more about this device this year. We still hear rumors of a fall release for Andromeda, which coincides with Windows 10 "Redstone 5". That next version of the OS is now focusing on cellular connections and a new radio stack, which is likely not a coincidence.

Surface folding device fan render in lead image by David Breyer.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

165 Comments
  • I already own a foldable PC it's called a LAPTOP I see no reason to fold the screen there is just not practical purpose to it that I see. Seems like a cool gimic though but I don't see is getting widespread adoption
  • You can fit your laptop in your pocket?
  • There's pocketability & then there's comfortable pocketability. Just because this thing might physically fit in a pocket doesn't mean it'll be a comfortable fit. Take 2 larger cell phones, tape them together, add 10 more, then slip that into your shorts pocket. It'll be the 2019 version of the Zack Morris cell phone, but maybe the functionality will make it worth it to some.
  • Tell that now to Nintendo Switch owners ;) That thing is HUGE and yet, people take it with them.
  • I take 2 3DS (XL) anywhere (in pockets), but Switch is too large to fit into pocket (with controller), and I mainly use it as console, or portable at home.
    However, if the size of Andromeda is close to or smaller than Switch without controller, that would be good enough.
  • Switch owner here. I take it as Daniel says with me when I travel but not in a pocket, it is in my carrying bag. That said I hope that Andromeda will come out and will be a good device but if it will be large as a switch it will not be pocket-able. Also it has to have some thickness to it as it should be able to hold a pen, otherwise it will in my opinion loss some of its attractiveness as the pen should be at center for this kind of device.
  • Oh, it won't be the size of Switch, that's just an extreme example of something "portable" that doesn't fit in the pocket yet it hasn't stopped it from being popular either (vs original smaller Gameboys).
  • Have you personally viewed a prototype Daniel? I'm thinking this will be the size of the GPD device? No, it won't fit in your pants pocket, but LOTS of Jackets have Nice big pockets to carry it, and an extra battery pack with it.
  • #Sidekick -- for those of you have never owned a CD, that was a popular "collapsible" handheld device that fit in larger pockets.
  • Daniel... I know the smartphone part of this is all wrong, but is there any truth to these findings?
    http://www.patentlyapple.com/patently-apple/2018/04/newly-revealed-phone...
  • I would not say wrong, although MS is not going to pitch this as a smartphone MS does need to have smartphone capabilities in the OS given the one OS all device categories mantra. I'm only assuming now, but I would also expect the Andromeda device to actually be a phone, even if MS marketing is not pitching it as such. It's more than todays phones, but it still need to be a phone as well, or many people simply are not going to buy it.
  • I used to own a Gameboy as a teen. Carried it around in my pocket, It is certainly way thicker than Andromeda is likely to be.
  • The same thing could have been said of the phablet when they started arriving. Interestingly enough, as phablets became more and more popular, clothing companies actually started making adjustments to accommodate them, primarily with larger pockets. If you have an old pair of jeans, you'll notice that in most cases, the pockets are smaller than the pockets of a newer pair of jeans.
  • Try putting 2 Galaxy S8 back to back in a thin case. That's probably how thick it'll be. Yes, it's more than we're used to, but it could be interesting to have a device that works as a phone and small tablet. I like how the crease area looks like it's just 2 screens with 1 curved edge on each to make the seam appear to disappear. If this device comes to market, it won't be for everyone just like an iPhone and Pixel aren't for everyone.
  • The 1520 was huge, and people said it was not pocketable. I could put it in my front pocket just fine. It's really more about how long, and wide, it is, than how thick it is. But, thickness is a concern... Hey, nobody is being asked to replace their smartphone with this. If it doesn't fit you don't buy it, and move along, right?
  • I really miss my 1520. I thought it was the perfect size. My 950XL seems too small after using the 1520.
  • It isn't meant to replace the smartphone, it is a smartphone. Just like the Axon M is still a smartphone.
  • it's more about how many girth units it is
  • Thing is, i really don't care how thick it is. Up to 2cm should be no problem, if the length does not exceed a phone with 4,7" screen (like the SonyXZ1 compact).
  • Your presumption that it would be thicker than two smartphones is odd. They only need the exact same amount of space for the SoC and battery. The only additional size required is for the screen (very thin) and the form factor. They would probably have the battery and radios on one side, and the SoC on the other. It'll certainly be more pocketable than a laptop or a tablet, and I imagine for the gaming, creativity and business space they are aiming for that will be plenty of functionality for the size. As they call it in business "a niche" The main limit I see, for the pro-consumer space, is I doubt it will be cheap. But of course that's not the entire point - graphene technology will eventually become cheap enough to use - and that is not only flexible, but basically indestructible. When that eventually emerges it will seem vastly superior to flat glass screens. And that, is what this OS and hardware prepares for. You see Microsoft learnt it's lesson from smartphones - it's not enough to be ontop of the "current game", you have to also try to be ontop of the next game. The larger displays afforded by flexible screens will make overly simple OS and app platforms seem insufficient - making this a perfect time for MS to jump in with windows. For the same reason that even basic consumers use windows on a laptop, and it's increasingly popular on tablets, when android and ios and shrinking - that's the same reason that windows will have its day when flexible graphene oled emerges - users prefer more power, even when they don't use it. More pixels, more processing power even if they don't use it. If they can have a full desktop OS in their pocket, they'll get it (when eventually the form factor becomes very thin, and the screen seemless). In the meantime, prosumers will pioneer, and act as a testbed, the OS that will eventually run on the graphene platform. The current smartphone space, has only worked well OS wise, because the size suits the UI, and the app platform. Which is also the same reason, no-one runs android or ios on a desktop. A) it's not the best experience with a mouse and keyboard b) it's capable of less. Eventually that will cease to be the case - whether by AR, VR or graphene, eventually everything will have a bigger screen, and thus the capability for more powerful and complex applications. So instead of scaling back windows on pocketable devices to ultra-simple - they simply need to make it a tad simpler in the folded form, a little more touch friendly (and flexible so that it can run on everything), in time for the screens to get bigger. By bringing all that extra power, from the existing desktop app platform, by merging desktop and smartphone and tablet into one, they make something is "more capable" whilst still "easy and a nice experience". And despite insistence otherwise, this will eventually sell - because the average user doesn't need 4gb. They don't need retina displays. They don't need hexacore processors. They don't need thousands of apps. They need 4-6. But they get them anyway, in case they ever do, and because numbers and capabilities sell. For that exact same reason, the average user will eventually want something that can run photoshop, and doom, even if they never run either. People are largely, NOT minimalists. The average consumer doesn't think "Do I really need this"? They don't have five pairs of pants and shirts, and a home with only the appliances and furniture they really need. They have homes with rooms they basically never enter. So the argument that "users only need x" is wrong - they aren't using ios or android because 'it's all they need', they are using it because it's the nicest experience, with loads of things they probably never need. If windows can one day call itself a comparably, or even better "nice experience", then all those extra things people will mostly never do, will be as attractive to the average consumer as honey is to bees.
  • Yeah, as noted...how big are your pockets that this thing fits into them? That's insane. What's the make and model of this "laptop" you speak of. I mean, clearly, your laptop is exactly like a digital Moleskin. I'm not sure why I didn't point that out, my bad. /s
  • I hope they're going to design a nice belt clip for it as I always have my phone in a belt clip, never could understand people putting their phones in their pockets, I'd be so scared to damage it by sitting on it by accident.
  • nah, no belt clip...I want a Han Solo leg holster! I'm not joking. I've been thinking about this lol.
  • I'm in! Let's make this a thing!
  • I can make that for you Dan!
  • Has everyone forgotten cargo pants? Side pocket...
  • I have a few pairs. While efficient, they are no where as cool as the leg holster. I have the cricut make for a business we have, I am working on cutting leather to make it and I will add the surface phone pocket once the device comes out.
  • Don't put in your back pocket, put in in your front pocket. If you overbend there, you might have bigger problems than a damaged phone ,-)
  • Heh heh... People so adamantly against sensible forward thinking tech usually end up eating their words...
  • Wow it's almost like you didn't read the article and just posted a comment
  • I also have one of these, but I call mine a 3DS, and I gave it to my kid.
  • I love laptops too, I have a 11.6" 2 in 1 , but what you said is nonsense, this is what the Surface Phone should have been years ago, and is much more revolutionary than iPhone X or Galaxy S9 which look boring and expensive to me.
  • 50 thousand Years ago. I already own a home, it's called a Cave. I see no reason to build walls and a roof, it's just not practical. Seems like a cool gimmick though, but I don't see it getting widespread adoption.
  • How the hell do you know what a caveman would have wanted
  • Having camped in a cave for ten days I've got a pretty good understanding of what a caveman would have wanted, he just did not know it at the time. Same goes for future tech as well.
  • cause the caveman didn't know what he wanted cause he had never experienced it nor had the broad imagination to see it..
  • Lincoln Allen.... You were, or still are, that kid trying to put the triangle in the circle spot, and still to this day is confused about why it won't "go". SMDH 🙄
  • This device idea is just beyond stupid. Incredibly so.
  • Why is it beyond stupid? All the arguments against it seem to be based around the same idea as how the iPhone was stupid because we had a stylus. Now, I personally prefer a stylus, but I think the last 10 years have proven that touch screens are pretty darn popular. I don't think it's that far off to assume certain people would prefer a single, pocket-able laptop. I personally hate my Android, and use my surface for far more than my phone. If I could have my surface as my primary mobile, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I'm thrilled at all the concepts coming out about this rumored device. Maybe I just misunderstood, and it's something else that makes this such a stupid idea, but please elaborate so we all know for sure.
  • With you all the way, I can't wait to get an Andromeda device or Surface Pocket or whatever they call it.
  • Using a Surface 3 everyday,,, I can say that it would be awesome to be able to fit it in my pocket.
  • I've been wanting this since the Courier designs. If your one of the people that says this is stupid, its just not for you. You're stupid if you think your personal tastes in hardware should determine what the rest of us have access to. Try being a lil open minded.
  • Because it does not offer anything that we do not already have today, and already have it better. What does it offer?? A worthless junk platform with no apps? A company that kills their products often? what does it have better than any other android or ios device?? Nothing but a delusional fanboy's hope.
  • People said the exact same thing of Surface Pro ("it has a floppy keyboard!"), iPhone ("it has no apps!"), and laptops with touch displays ("who touches their laptops' screen?!"). I also remember many consumers saying they'd never pay for cellular data, or $1,000 phones. Yet, here we are. Things change. Don't be that guy that declares something stupid early on. Ask Ballmer and his comments on the iPhone ("it doesn't have a physical keyboard!"). Either way, Samsung, LG, and even Apple are all rumored to have similar device ideas in the works. Clearly, they know something you don't. At the very least, let's wait to see how this thing is presented, what it can actually do, what its specs are, pricing, and how it is marketed before jumping to conclusions. Judging a final product on patent drawings is, well, silly.
  • “…and how it is marketed” That is a big concern.
  • They will tell us how much we can use Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. Big whoops! :) Oh yeah, the magic of PWAs I almost forgot. LOL! Now, I'm not saying I won't get one, BUT it depends on the camera and phone capabilities. If those items aren't stellar or non-existent. Then more power to those who want one. I'll leave it on the shelf for them.
  • Do you have a problem with Surface ads? Which ones.
  • I have zero problems with the Surface adds. I'm actually typing this using my Surface Pro. At home my SP3 is my go to computer/laptop/tablet. This is one of the best devices created. But honestly the commercials didn't sway me. I played with the product at the store and I was sold. Plus I was in the business of buying everything Microsoft. 5 Phones, two Bands, 1 SP3, and countless of other accessories. Again, I currently have an 8 inch tablet that runs Windows 10 (which I got from Microsoft free when I purchased a computer from Microsoft a year and a half ago) I only use it to read books and to watch movies when I travel. A foldable device the size of a phone that doesn't have a great phone or camera is not for me. But for those who it is - Great! So, my remarks about Excel, Word, etc was well placed because when they advertised the phones in that was one of their selling points. Yes, I know this is not a phone, but it's phone size (I think that's a pretense). But as a person that invest his hard earned money in all things Microsoft this device doesn't (at this time) impress me. I'll have to wait and see the actual device until I make a full judgment. Oh, yeah let me not forget to mention the 4 Xbox's that litter my house!
  • I have no use for a pocket size device that has no voice or camera capability. My life would have to change significantly to make such a device useful.
  • 100% Agree! I'm like what's the point. This is Microsoft selling fake hype. I mean that's what it really feels like. But if it doesn't have a phone built in then I'm good to leave it for others.
  • I dont think Ms is selling fake hype, rather it is WC which is hyping it
  • This! Especially the camera bit; the camera needs to be top notch!
  • Is it? You think those Surface ads, commercial,s, and reveal trailers were poor? Because that is what this is. It's Surface.
  • Never seen a single live Surface commercial; the world is bigger than the US...
  • Dan, Marketing is more than just Surface ads, commercials, and reveal trailers. It’s about messaging, communicating, naming, trust, commitment – all of which fall under the umbrella of marketing, or more broadly, the Microsoft brand. Even you have to admit, this has historically never been Microsoft’s strong suit relative to Apple (even with superior technology).
  • Actually I've been getting some really good surface adds on TV. Looks like theyve improved their advertising situation lately.
  • who touches their laptops' screens? and I actually ask this
  • I do. For certain tasks, it's way quicker to touch the screen then use the mouse.
  • I do. All the time.
    Sometimes I dont, but every once in a while its just more natural and easier to reach up and touch my surface book screen than to use the trackpad.
  • I do all the time, I can’t use a computer now that’s not touch enabled. It’s like using a typewriter. This just in however, Report on mspoweruser states ms concedes to google and Apple in the platform wars. Meaning there’s less of a chance this sees the light of day.
  • I do all the time. Very natural interaction.
  • Usually Apple users that have a hard time grasping the interactive touch display. They are used to mouse and finger gymnastics.
  • Place a non touch screen device in front of someone younger than 20 and watch them continue touching the screen even after realizing more than once that it is not a touchscreen device. It's instinctive.
  • Im 41 and I do it all the time. Down in my mechanic shop, I have an older windows 10 computer, and I am punching the screen constantly...Even my dell monitor in my office in my house is touchscreen and I use it ALOT!
  • iPad Pro user being of course Surface copiers! Notice in both I mentioned 'Pro' as both seem to try to cover laptop aspects!
  • Using non-touch laptops is a nightmare. I keep touching the display and nothing happens, and I do it like five times before I understand why, and then I'm like "who buys none touch laptops in 2018?!!!"
  • mac users. They think macs are the "future". ha ha ha.
  • Using a laptop without a touch screen is just weird these days. Some interaction just work.better on a touch screen. Much more high end feel.
  • Yeah, but but but....touchbar! ha ha ha...
  • I do all the time.
    Occasionally I borrow my daughters Mac and it frustrates the #$!@ out of me that the screen doesn't respond to my touch. Over priced piece of #$@!
  • Actually the Surface pro is the device that people were ways asking for.... Remember that Microsoft came out with Surface with Windows RT and people were like "WTF? why can't I run full apps?" People were asking for a iPad like tablet with full windows for a l