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A Microsoft Surface phone could have THREE screens, according to patent

Surface Duo
Surface Duo (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • A patent shows a potential phone from Microsoft that has three screens.
  • The design has a thinner third display set between two larger displays.
  • As is the case with all patents, this design might never be released or used in a product.

Microsoft's Surface Duo is set to come out later this year. That device has two displays attached together by a hinge. A recently published patent from Microsoft shows off designs for a device that looks similar to the Surface Duo, but that has three screens (via Windows Latest). The designs in the patent have a thin third display set between the two larger displays. As is the case with all patents, the designs shown off might never be used in a device.

The patent illustrates and describes a design of a device that has a third display that responds to the configuration of the device. For example, if the device was folded closed, the third display could show controls or content similar to the Samsung Edge display. If the device is folded open, the middle display could bridge the gap between the two larger displays. One portion of the patent reads:

In a first implementation of the first aspect of the example device, the determination logic is configured to determine one or more virtual controls to be displayed on the third screen region based at least in part on the hinge angle being greater than zero degrees and less than 180 degrees.

The patent also states:

For instance, a state of a hinge that is coupled between a first screen region and a second screen region may be determined. Information that is to be displayed on a third screen region that is provided on the hinge may be determine based at least in part on the state of the hinge.

Three Screen Surface Patent

Source: Free Patents Online (Image credit: Source: Free Patents Online)

It's important to note that while these designs could refer to a phone or cellular device similar to the Surface Duo, they could also be used in a mobile computer like the Surface Neo. Any mobile device could also not be a Surface device, but considering the Surface Duo and Surface Neo are under the Surface brand, it seems likely that the potential device could be a Surface. The patent reads:

The mobile device 1400 may be any of a variety of computing devices (e.g., cell phone, smartphone, handheld computer, Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), etc.) and may allow wireless two-way communications with one or more mobile communications networks 1404, such as a cellular or satellite network, or with a local area or wide area network. (Emphasis added).

The first claim of the patent gives a good summary of the overall concept:

A device comprising: a plurality of screen regions, including at least a first screen region, a second screen region, and a third screen region; a hinge coupled between the first screen region and the second screen region to provide a hinge angle, the third screen region provided on the hinge; and one or more processors that perform operations comprising: determine one or more virtual controls to be displayed on the third screen region based at least in part on the hinge angle being greater than zero degrees and less than 180 degrees, the one or more virtual controls enable a user of the device to provide an input to control an application that is displayed on at least one of the first screen region or the second screen region.

A device with three screens could provide unique functionality for a mobile device, such as seeing notifications or controls when the phone was closed, but it would also likely have some issues. Presumably, a third screen between two other screens would have gaps on each side, making viewing content across all three screens awkward. Patent drawings are basic and aim to illustrate concepts, not final designs, so it's unclear how large any potential gaps would be.

The patent was filed on August 7, 2019, and was published on March 31, 2020.

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

29 Comments
  • Microsoft should work on getting one screen right, then begin adding more.
  • Does social distancing not apply to trolling?
  • That was actually pretty funny, both comments that is... Unfortunately, you can make smart ass comments from over 6 feet away. 😜
  • As you've mentioned before, one folding screen tech isn't quite there in maturity. I'm sure they are exploring that option, along with others. I believe they are just trying to avoid the potential issues in quality, when it comes to having a folding screen. I also think they want to keep the profile slim and sleek, and that's just not possible with current flex screen technology. At the end of the day, only time will tell if this device or Duo will make its mark. I'm sure having one screen is the ultimate goal.
  • Android already handles single screen use just fine enough for a variety of devices and people. Motorola, Microsoft, LG, and Samsung, and Google has already embarked on the task of Android handling 2 screens better. It's the right time to start thinking about beyond 2 for Microsoft to keep a competitive footing.
  • Do multiple people use this account? I have very occasionally seen some reasonable, thoughtful comments posted. Usually though, it's just negative stupidity and then we occasionally get absolute moronity like this. It's as though a twelve-year-old with behavioural issues has found their dad's password.
  • Interesting. Would need to see the value proposition in having this third screen.
  • How else are you going to diagnose Westworld hosts? 😁
  • you wouldn't have to open the phone or device in order to see information. but while this is technically 3 screens, in usage, it's more like 2.1 screens. A tiny sliver of a screen?
  • So basically the Galaxy Edge.
  • I think MS hinged dual screen will be the best bet going forward. They could even make this design to unhinge and use both screens independently. Maybe one screen for phone use when there's no need of a second screen.
  • I think this is overkill. I would have no problem with a thin seam between the screens. For me to even consider using this product, they should focus on getting a third screen on the outside. This way it can be used while closed like a phone then deactivated when opened. If this has phone capability and I have to open it to use it each time, this is a non-starter for me.
  • I was hoping this was a screen that would fold around so you can see a status when closed. I'm gonna buy this phone on launch day but I'll prob keep it folded open so I can see a screen without unfolding it most of the time. Hopefully the screens don't scratch in my pocket.
  • As long as there is even thinnest of bazel surrounding this displays it's not gonna make any difference. the problem of surface duo and other dual screen devices will remain as it is. Only good thing is they can provide much needed outer screen with this method. Foldable glass is biggest hope to drive foldable phones forward.it will take another 2 to 4 years to achieve capable foldable glass which can bend at minimal radius & at the same time provide adequate scratch & crack resistance.
  • I love their desire to innovate... but I’d love to see them get one out that has ONE screen first. For real convince us of how well you can do one screen for those of us who only want one so we can convince others to get those devices with more screens.
  • Please no, there's enough one screen devices. There's absolutely no point in them doing that. They need to be different.
  • Maybe for you, not for the rest of us who actually want it.
  • Microsoft have been saying for years that they will not be creating a "me too" device. They don't want to be just another Android OEM, so I suspect that you're out of luck. They are looking at the Duo because it is something genuinely different and complements what Microsoft is trying to achieve as a company. If the Duo sees some success, we might see a more conventional phone from Microsoft to fill out their range, as they did with the Surface Laptop, but I see that as being something happen later, after success has already been achieved.
  • Have you ever used a Windows Phone? The screen wasn't the issue, none of the hardware was the issue. When the Nokia Lumia phones came out, they had some of the most advanced camera's, device cooling, and other features. Trust me, MSFT knows how to design a screen. That won't be the issue.
  • Deleted this comment.
  • This is fine (albeit cumbersome and I imagine costly) so long as you can't feel the split between the screens. If you cannot smoothly move your finger from one side of the device to the other then this concept is pointless.
  • Technically complex but I think the point is that it would not be cumbersome for the end user. Opening and closing the device would be no different to the Duo currently in development. It would just act as a single hinge. Also, while having no gap would be the ideal situation, to say that being able to feel the gap would make it pointless is simply not true. If the gap was small, there are still people who would be happy enough to use it, if it provided some advantage over a single folding screen. The cost may be the sticking point though. Dual screens are likely to be cheaper than folding screens but adding in this extra complexity might put them on par in terms of cost.
  • Yeah, I meant cumbersome from a design point of view, not the end user. Honestly this level of effort? May as well just go foldable.
  • I like the design just get rid of those giant top & bottom bezels from 2015
  • I saw some diagrams from this patent and it appeared to show screen on both sides of the centre section. That would take care of the issue of seeing notifications without opening the device.
  • Would love to see this on big brother Neo too.
  • I think it needs a third screen. When closed people want to see their notifications or might want to take a quick picture without having to open it. So it makes sense to me.
  • It appears you could only fold it close in one direction. Which is okay but it's nice with the Neo and Duo that you can flip it to the otherside.
  • Why cant they just add a screen to the outside so you don't have to open it to view alerts? Their solution to no outside screen is flaky at best and they are adding a screen to the wrong part. I have no issue with the seam. Seems like a half hearted attempt to compete...