Microsoft Research demos prototype smartphone cover with e-ink display

Microsoft Research has shared its work (opens in new tab) on a new kind of smartphone cover that adds a secondary e-ink display to smartphones. Demoed using a Lumia 640, the integrated display cover provides users with a second display for content, increasing screen real-estate on existing phones without too much bulk.

The project sees research teams try to provide another solution to user-demand for more display. Instead of making smartphones bigger, what if you could add a secondary screen in the form of a cover? Microsoft Research describes the following:

Our prototype uses a pre-existing flexible e-ink display module. For expediency we didn't integrate a touch overlay; instead we incorporated five touch 'buttons' at the bottom of the display. The touch buttons and display connect to interface circuitry added to the rear of the phone – a Lumia 640 – via flat-flex cables which run through the flip cover 'hinge' along with a bend sensor. The cover itself consists of a bezel of soft-touch fabric which is heat-bonded to the display and to the rear surface of Alcantara using custom-made heated tooling.

While working prototypes did not include a touch-layer, Microsoft Research also envisioned scenarios in which the cover did support touch, providing additional functionality such as using the secondary screen as a keyboard, or as extra screen space for apps like Word to expand into. The secondary display could also be used for pinning important information such as tickets to a concert, the latest happenings within Cortana, and more.

This research project is an interesting insight into how Microsoft is thinking about expanding the mobile form-factor. While most Microsoft Research projects never turn into real products, we do know Microsoft is already hard at work on "Andromeda," a mobile device that runs Windows Core OS with two-screens that's pocketable with telephony capabilities. Andromeda and this e-ink display cover share few similarities, but both focus on using extra screen real-estate for enhanced productivity.

What are your thoughts on this research project? Let us know below!

Spotted by @h0x0d on Twitter!

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • a) How awesome would it be if this becomes reality and
    b) Why oh why did they demo it on a Lumia 640? Just makes one wish even more for what could have been if MS had stuck with phones. T_T
  • Because, they own the rights to use that device, as they please, without any backlash, or litigation, from other OEM'S.
    Oh, and Andromeda🙏🏽 pray for Andromeda😑
  • I pray that MSFT release an official statement regarding Andromeda, soon. I pray for the time when I have to see Panos himself present ANDROMEDA. 💙
  • This is interesting concept but It is better suited for the Surface Go or Surface pro Tablets as new
    kind of type covers for these devices. Folks I think time is running out for Microsoft to debut their Andromeda
    device with a built in 4/5 Cell phone because there are a lot of Windows smart phone users waiting for
    the Andromeda device. I don't think many will care about buying an Andromeda device because after 2019
    they will be using Android or Apple Iphones- hurry up Microsoft
  • Yep, can see this as a nice upgrade for my 950XL. I would love to see a release date.
  • because this was already made in 2015..
  • However they end up releasing Andromeda I just hope they take their time with it and get it right. I'm okay with a Fall 2025 release if it means a rock solid experience straight out of the gates. As hard a pill as it is to swallow, it was an act of genius to put W10M out of its misery first too. It's allowing them to focus their most talented people on Android and iOS apps, strengthening their position in the enterprise. Once core OS and Andromeda are out in 2025 we'll all have a good laugh about it. ;O)
  • Just what I had in mind for Andromeda. This is a dream come true. Or rather about to come true already one year late. Also as mentioned, it is so irritating to once again see how they wasted their mobile presence. Just let they don't have an Insider base to get feedback on their buggy telephony functionality, leaving me sceptic about an Andromeda launch, they have nobody basically to test such apparatus. Which will eventually leave Andromeda start even after it happens with a waste of one year obvious bug fixing. Bit it's cool to see this. I am pretty sure we will be seeing this on a foldable Samsung device soon.
  • Microsoft will never make this happening so just give the idea/patent to a company that will.
  • I would buy that in a Minute! Awesome!!
  • We would all do my friend.
  • I feel like it’s a rip off of the Kickstarter e ink case but with enough developer support they could make it a thing.
  • I believe this is what the extra pins on the Surface Go attachment point are for. I've been talking about an e-ink blade for a second screen since they first showed that musical blade years ago.
  • I love this idea, Microsoft is really doing their best!
  • This is what I'm talking about, innovation like this could have spurred a major accessory ecosystem for Lumias. Just imagine this + Qi wireless and tactus (bubble keyboard). But, nooo the mobile division was axed what major shortsightedness all for short term profit grabs. Sigh...
  • Short term profit grabs instead of long-term losses. Sounds like an easy decision.
  • So, Microsoft made a YotaPhone?
  • Jajajaja 😂😂 you noticed too?
  • Could they sell this for other phones?, may we also see one for a surface too. I could see this as being a great second screen for laptops, phones and tablets. Alot of time I need the second screan for productivity, low battery usage, real great idea.
  • let me guess, this is actually andromeda...
  • No, it’s Surface Andy appetizer! Halved priced?!
  • 2015
  • Yeah, MS showed it and Apple owned it with their "innovative touchbar" within the MacBooks.
  • Cool idea. I never buy these type of covers but with this functionality I would totally bite.
  • Forget Andromeda! Microsoft research should sell this accessory today. I would love to use this work my Lumia 950 XL now!
  • I don't pray. Now I'm just curious...
  • I am going to apologize in advance to Zach's efforts into this article. But I am going to flat out stick my nose up at any accessory, mobile, or hardware devices. Like all of us, I got burned on the Lumia 1520 / Lumia 950 XL, Windows 10 Mobile, promises of an awesome future through UWP that no one bought into. I even had a Microsoft Product Team Supervisor call me on the phone to address the fact that I spent over $1000 on hardware that in the end wasn't worth $20, and completely abandoned Windows Mobile as a result. You know what I got? "I can give you a free code for Microsoft Office..." What an insult! Why invest in this "Andromeda" vaporware or anything mobile-related after they yanked the rug out from underneath all of us???
  • LoL, I bought the Omnia 7, Omia W, Ativ S, Lumia 800, Lumia 525, Lumia 920, Lumia 640XL, Lumia 950 and Lumia 950X. Not necessarily on that order, and some I bought more than on of. I also bought several accessories, like original covers, 3x docks and so on. And, I'm still using the Lumia 950XL, because I want to. I've also owned a number of Android and iPhones over the years because I have to trough work. Before that I bought a shitload of non touch cell phones, all worthless now. Perhaps I should make a claim to Nokia and Ericsson? It's not like MS wanted this to fail, even though one could claim their efforts to be somewhat of a lackluster. But times change, and markets talk. MS had to pull back and attack the market from another angle. I still love my 950XL, and if MS do release Andromeda, I'd probably buy that as well.
  • Seriously! Thank you, someone else that is making some sense! People hold grudges as if Microsoft personally offended them. Products fail all the time, sometimes even before they get released. This is true for any other company along with Microsoft. And as this comment said, this is separate from a conversation about whether Microsoft "tried hard enough." Honestly, aside from that critique, the most important thing is that they continue to come back and try different strategies vs just giving up. Stop holding onto the past and continue to use whatever is working/will work for you. No one is telling anyone to invest in Andromeda or whatever thing that isn't released yet.
  • That is one point of view Real but I contend that the evidence is that ms HAS given up. It's now what, 3 years, since Nadella canned phones and what does ms have now? Launcher? That is giving up Real and I reckon you'll have to spin it pretty hard to convince me that it is not giving up. When my Lumia 820 dies I will replace it with a Nokia 8 and then send my three year old hp laptop to the big network in the sky and replace it with an hp running chrome.
  • My 950xl has way better audio than the new Pixel 3s. The camera is also pretty good, though the Pixel is better. Just think where we could have been... I also do well on 3GB RAM. As for this, it is ok, but I fear somewhat late to the party.
  • This will be a nice accessory that will go quite nicely with the surface note. I can't wait to their lunch the surface journal surface watch and the surface note. Spring 2019 ????
  • No such animal. Don't hold your breath.
  • No way. The software will not be ready until 2020 at the earliest. The Surface Hub was already announced and it won't have CoreOS until 2020. Don't expect anything until at least them, assuming they don't kill it.
  • IMO, it needs a solid hinge like a laptop that keeps it angle without needing a kickstand...I can't imagine using if it works like the magnetic keyboard on a surface … it looks like it would be more trouble then its worth if that's the case...
  • I guess they put the kickstand on the back of the magnetic clip on screen? hmm... maybe that would work... I could see using my pinky fingers to type on a touch keyboard while viewing the add on screen like surface screen with kick stand...
  • This is just another great idea that Microsoft should have released a few years ago that will likely better see the light of day.
  • LOL, this is just hilarious.
  • Using e-ink for boarding passes is a killer idea! Easier to scan, and the QR code remains even if the battery dies or the phone is turned off. Maybe this could somehow see the light of day as a BLE-enabled phone case that would work with any model phone? Maybe something simple with a tiny chip, battery, e-ink display, and button that wakes up the chip, connects to the phone, gets the current phone display image to set to ink, and goes back to sleep.
  • Cool doesn't even begin to describe...
    MIcrosoft should bring back a Windows Phone and hopefully Andromeda.
  • I will never forgive MS. Never. And Satya Nadella of course. Is there a single reason makes sense why MS cancelled project astoria? A single one? It was making possible to us running Android apps on WP. They cancelled it intentionally and killed the program. MS didn't even bother to release an Android roms for lumias either. How hard can it be to compile android roms for lumias, for a sorftware giant like MS? They killed the platform. Now I have my Lumia 950 with good hardware and poor miserable software. I regret every second in WP. MS don't care what you think, hell they don't even accept bugs as bugs. After amber update L920 and L925 began to make photos yellowish and blurry. People even opened long and detailed topics in forums. What MS done? Nothing! I waited two years for them to fix it. If MS don't want to see the problem you cannot make them see. How idiot i was to trust a half baked OS. Never again.
  • I would buy it if it was ever released. I'd expect it to be under $100 though, especially the version without a touchscreen. I'd prefer the whole phone but being able to use it also on the next phone is also a selling point.
  • Yeh, yeh, yeh. Yet another ms thought bubble to excite the rapidly dwindling group of supporters.