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Surface 'Andromeda' might use face detection for intuitive volume controls

Microsoft is showing no sign of quitting its Surface Andromeda patent-a-thon, from big technological solutions to pouring over all sorts of finer details. The very idea of a dual-screen computer creates a range of usability issues that we take for granted with today's single-slate tablets and phones, and clearly Microsoft is ensuring that it is really thinking through all the finer points of how a dual-screen tablet could work.

This latest patent describes issues that come with dual-purpose volume mixing, where you can have separate apps and features present across two displays.

When viewing content on the screens in these varying positions, users may encounter challenges adjusting the audio volumes of different applications executed on each of the screens, or different audio-enabled graphical user elements displayed on each of the screens.

If this patent bears fruit, it seems as though Microsoft is looking to enlist dual cameras on Andromeda to detect distance and gaze for the tablet's users. Some of the scenarios described include automatically increasing the volume when you're further away from the device while playing a game, and also swapping the balance from one display to the other based on which one you're looking at.

Additionally, the patent covers other events for configuring audio, including hinge positions, and it can also trigger a mute if no face is detected. The patent also notes that regular on-screen GUI volume controls will also be present. The patent also covers scenarios for sending sound to left and right headphones connected either wirelessly or via a headphone jack, allowing users to play audio from each individual app in separate ears, or mixed in stereo.

On a related note, Microsoft also patented methods for Andromeda to have haptic-based power and volume buttons, doing away with the machine buttons most phones and tablets still have in 2018. The patent talks about implementing haptic feedback on the sides and back of the device, allowing users to "feel" virtual volume and power buttons with haptic feedback either via vibrations, pulses, or textures that remain flush with the device.

We still have no real idea whether Andromeda will ever hit store shelves, but it's nice to dream. At the very least, the Surface labs are churning away on exploring all sorts of features that could make their way into all sorts of Surface devices, even if Andromeda never sees the light of day. Here's hoping, either way.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

76 Comments
  • I have started losing confidence, as it looks like becoming too late to market.
  • It is already too late to the market as Samsung and other MFRs distributing their foldable devices within a few months. It is good and bad! It's bad because MS fans have to wait while similar competition devices are already floating around in the market, and it's good since MS can learn from other MFRs mistakes and flaws and prevent those in its own...
  • Surface was last to the market with a "tablet"... That didn't matter.
  • Microsoft's marketing doesn't even promote their Surface pro as a tablet anymore, because no one really uses it as a tablet.
  • I do. About 75 % of the time. So much for your absolutes...
  • There is a reason Microsoft doesn't bother updating the touch UI in Windows 10. Likely they have useage data that shows people do not use it much.
  • That’s a chicken and egg argument. I doesn’t get used because it sucks.
  • I've run my entire company for the last 5 years on touch via Surface products. What a bs comment. The only issue I had was the touch keyboard didn't automatically come up in desktop mode and they've fixed that a while ago.
  • "I've run my entire company for the last 5 years on touch via Surface products. What a bs comment"
    I totally and whole heartedly agree
  • @Stevieguy91. Which products? Genuinely curious.
  • Surface Pro 1, Pro 2, Pro 4 and Laptop.
  • Same here, around 75% of the time as well. Reason, is I don't do well with any lap that is not no touch which messes me up a ton at work where I find muself trying to touch non touchscreen laptops.
    So, using touch forces me to use it as tablet a lot.
  • I don't use mine AS a tablet very often. I almost always run it using the type cover but I definitely use it as a touchscreen laptop. I catch myself trying to touch my work laptop screen whenever it's not docked at my desk so it is a very powerful usage scenario.
  • I'm not on a surface but a Dell XPS, and for me usage is somewhat 50/50 between Laptop and Tablet mode. And it's shifting more and more towards tablet due to inking.
  • No, it was one of the first to market with a 2-in-1. Calling it a tablet is very limiting in its abilities, which far exceeded the tablet market it wasn't even competing with (iOS and Android). Conversely, Microsoft is showing up late with a foldable device on a flexible OS, but only after Google has promoted a similar OS concept on a Samsung device. This could be the death of x86, in some respects. It's going to really push the app vs application argument for the consumer--do you want ease of use or full functionality more? Microsoft's going to offer a more expansive library, but in a very confusing package. Given they probably won't even have proper x86 support for Andromeda, it could be DoA, unless MS magically stops letting the Windows Store languish in mediocrity.
  • Very fair argument
  • They have got x64 emulation working along with cshell there are solutions to the legacy applications support. We do need to see alot more movement on the UWP front however...
  • MS's smartphones (or pocket pc's) were first to market and failed. MS can fail whether first or last to market, they are very flexible that way.
  • As long as Android is not a full Win10 PC, it still have time imo. * run computational cheaper XPA games natively (xCloud for more expensive ones)
    * OneDrive on Demand
    * IDE
    * File system
    * Inking, quick sketch, note taking, light Photoshop usage
    * PC browser with (mine) extensions. News, email, messenger and other essentials are not phone only applications. And /i don't need phone games.
  • The problem with the others is they are not Windows. Business knows the value of a single OS, which will always be Windows.
  • They have managed the surface line well and has become successful within already established traditional form factors. So, even if Andromida is late to the 'whatever catchy term we're going to call it in the end' market, that doesn't mean it can't find success. Though I don't think it matters, from what we have heard from Panos and Satya is that they want to define the category, not just be part of it. I think that goes way beyond the actual hardware and bendable screens too, software needs to take a generational leap as well. i.e. Courier concepts. We'll see if that is what really happens or not. 2019 should be fun regardless.
  • They want to create their own category for use cases that will appeal exclusively to a new market, not the smartphone-drenched community.
  • It is not too late at all since there is simply no competitions for what Andromeda is trying to accomplish. It would establish a new mobile category which is exclusively built for the W10 users. It is a productivity mobile device rather than a consumer smartphone. The enterprise and prosumer users will be their targeted audience initially. MS will establish the platform specs which all OEMs can use to build different versions of devices. But MS can certainly learn the design experiences from other folding phone manufacturers.
  • While its a new category, its going to depend on mobile, touch-centric apps. MS doesn't have those and never will. The hardware, the OS and the app platform are all there, but without 3rd party developer support, its Windows Phone all over again.
  • You don't have to be first to "win," you have to do it right too
  • This would true, but unfortunately history shows us that Microsoft isn't doing many things right these days
  • Every company has their strengths and weaknesses, the ones that Microsoft gets most bashed on is consumer facing products which in a way makes sense on WC since this is more for consumers. However, I don't think that automatically means they aren't getting "anything" right. Most, if not all, surface products have been doing well (arguably since surface 3 I think). Xbox is doing well too.
  • Xbox is doing phenomenally well, personally I chalk that up to the love and care they have shown to older titles. Through the backwards compatibility and the 4K updates some games have gotten; these have provided a new lease of life to older classics and well as the pre-owned market. Plus when you actually think about how low end the original xbox one SOC was at launch and they got xbox 360 emulation running flawlessly on that... which is a miraculous feat of engineering. In regards to the Surface I sure hope they don't get restrained by the cost saving measures as the Surface line up is now seen as an aspirational / trailblazing line up.
  • Disagree. This will be aimed a the business market which values all devices being on the same OS. Windows is the OS of business.
  • It is premature to wait for this device. When and if it comes to market I still stay away until its major bugs' wash cycle and dry cleaning cycle to get completed!
  • It seems that this device is not slim at all.
  • The device Samsung demo'd wasn't slim either. These foldables have a long way to go if they want to compete with either a phone or a tablet. They have to solve the "thick as a brick" problem. Foldables are the wrong business for a productivity driven Microsoft to be in. They're much better off focusing on putting eSim in every Surface 10 inches or larger... and on releasing an ARM version of Surface Go (with eSim of course).
  • The demo that Samsung presented was not my reference. And I agree, these are drawings. But there was video demo introducing Andromeda device project on which it was thin and flexible. Maybe, I am talking about two different devices.
  • @Ferris Bueller Nope, they are in the right business, the esim in "every surface 10 inches or larger" is a transitional stop gap. The "thick as a brick problem" is more complicated as it depends on efficiency of components as well as software optimisations and battery tech improvements. If anyone pull it off, it's Microsoft and Microsoft research.
  • It probably wont be, for the reason Ferris stated. But are you stating that based on the patent drawings? I wouldn't use that as an indication of anything other than the very specific point they are making.
  • You are absolutely right, basing criticism of the thickness of a device from patent drawings is just dumb. I fully expect someone to complain about the size of the bezels as well.
  • Hi Xlsed, I agree that these are just drawings. But I have always thought that it would be flexible and thin as MS had shown on videos (like the paper one). Maybe, I am talking about 2 different devices.
  • @Josialioka Ralay. That is the end game, the aspiration that developers and engineers aspire to create. The same principle applies to every single Sci-Fi movie that is set in Space, I say set in space as usually these movies display technology on the forefront of dreams of writers, engineers and theoretical scientisits. Going back to Microsoft's videos in some of the old videos you will see the Surface Dial in use.
  • Ferris, how does having an extra screen in something more portable than a tablet with the same screen real-estate less productive??
  • Productivity is defined as the state or quality off "producing" something. Which begs the question what can one actually "do" (produce) on one of these foldables? Sure... one can watch Netflix on twice the screen... one can surf the net on twice the screen size... one can read the latest John Grisham at twice the screen size. But none of that is "productive", rather it's "consumptive". Foldables may have some limited use cases in terms of productivity, but it's not their prime directive. Chasing that bone is just a distraction for MS. Their precious time and resources are much better spent putting eSim in devices 10 inches and bigger... Surface Pro, Go, and Laptop... and in creating ARM versions of at least the Go if not the Laptop as well. If they want to build something purely for consumption's sake, they're better off building a portable Xbox player in foldable form factor. But... only... because gaming and Microsoft is already synonymous. BTW a portable Xbox would be way cool. ;0)
  • I disagree. From an operational standpoint, having a dual screen pocketable device can be much more productive than a single screen device. I manage multifamily real estate, which means I often have to enter an apartment and "do stuff". My phone is quite helpful in ways I did not think possible. Flashlight, camera, search, etc. are all quite helpful. Now I have integrated a software cloud-based property management system, which makes life much more productive. Dual screens would allow me to process two unique sets of data within the same software application in many different ways making me much more productive.
  • i dunno. being able to view data on one screen, while doing something on another with that data is awesome. its probably one of the most common reasons people have dual monitors in regards to productivity. having that be portable seems just as useful.
  • @Ferris Bueller, on what experiences are you basing your opinions on?
  • It's interesting to see how Microsoft is "thinking different". This kind of innovative thinking gave us the Surface line of devices, including the unique features of the Surface Headphones, and it's adapting of the Surface Dial's rotary mechanism. Bringing breakthroughs like this into the entire line will differentiate them even further from the competition as forward thinkers. Right now, I think it's the Windows OS that is languishing in innovation, mainly because it has such legacy baggage that it limits UI/UX progress towards building a harmonious synergy of hardware and software. This is why a desktop paradigm is being forced onto form factors that don't work well with it, and why tablet mode is so bad.
  • Andro - meda; Andro- id , hmmm I wonder if there is any connection here.....
  • Probably not.. Lol
  • I can't wait for spring 2019.
  • :)) Mee too. To see them either not deliver anything or deliver another half baked useless thing that no one but desperate fans will ever buy.
  • So tell me all about the great products you produce and bring to market, anxious to learn.
  • Okay lol why are you here.
  • Or they could have a volume control on either side of the tablet and control each side independently.
  • LoL you know Microsoft had to make it hard.
  • Man they should hire you, so smart /s
  • Considering the state of tablet mode on windows 10, all the innovative hardware features on this device will amount to nothing as long as Andromeda doesn't improve upon the touch ui. There are no indications that Microsoft is developing any improvements on windows 10 tablet mode that might give a glimpse to what Andromeda will have to offer and the software will always dictate the success of any hardware. That is why Apple has been so successful with their products. They continually offer mediocre hardware but run it with solid software design for it.
  • Um ... Windows Core OS???
  • Haptic controls are good on any device, whether on an Andromeda or an SP. Clearly, many of these patents don't really require a small dual screen pocketable device. The question is how and when would MSFT incorporate any of these ideas into the Surface ecosystem. What if you have a good reliable haptic control for all volume controls on all surface devices? Does that make sense? Is it a good thing? So you get Core OS released and you start integrating different form factors utilizing different sets of user interfaces with Core OS and making g sure your connected services and apps play well across form factors. Does anyone know if Core OS is close to fruition on any form factor?
  • The last article about it here on Windows Central indicated that Core OS development was the reason for the Andromeda delay until spring. Hopefully the (roughly) six additional months are sufficient for them to rollout this coming spring.
  • It would be a bad name "Andromeda" for the device marketing. Because name should be neutral to any religious and opinion issues.
  • what religious or opinion issues does Andromeda invoke?
    Edit: to be clear, i'm assuming myths aren't considered religious.
  • "I didn't see the need for a third fold-able dual screen mobile device in the market." -Satya Nadella
  • :))))))))))))) wow~! innovation. Useless junk feature.
  • WC, why even bother at this point? People lost interest in this bs after the MJF tweet in the summer
  • hmm folks Microsoft's strength's are in the PC Windows operating system and the
    Millions of programs developers have made for it. There are Millions of Windows
    Computer users who could use a single screen or dual screen Tablet / cell phone
    Hybrid that will work with with their Windows PC's. This would be a Niche
    device for sure that wont out sell Android or Apple smart phones but enough
    of them will be bought if the Andromeda devices does run Win32/x86 programs
    natively or in fast emulation software so Windows Computer users can use These Andromeda devices as additional devices that works with the Hundreds of Millions
    of Windows PC's that are in USE today. There is a Place for such a device in this
    world. Also People like me who do not like to work with small smart phone
    screens will buy them too. Who DO NOT like EYE STRAIN
  • this is basically vaporware.
    all these designs and patents are so they can rake in royalties when other companies want to use these features.
  • For heaven's sake Nadella, either release the damned thing or drop it publically. This andromeda thing is tiresome. Already two companies have demonstrated their offerings so are you in it or out of it? Make up your mind nadella and stop sitting on the fence.
  • If Andromeda has just half of the things they're patentint, it's going to be mindblowing.
  • I agree, some people here literally have zero imagination in terms of use cases. I can already see several dozen use cases for the Andromeda device.
  • "Surface 'Andromeda' might use face detection for intuitive volume controls" Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
  • I am a little skeptical after the phones and Band failed.... think there is hope with OEMs? Or are those bridges burned?
  • This opens up a lot more flexibility and especially if they allow one side to be muted individually. Would love to see two headphone jacks but that's just pushing it lol.
  • Thousand patents, zero products. Awesome.
  • Maybe I'm not as evolved as others, but I can't see using two different headphones at the same time to watch two different media elements on the two screens. Maybe using the device in tent mode where I use one side, and someone else is using the other? Could you imagine playing battleship with one of these? Now there is a use case i haven't seen mentioned for it!
  • Can’t wait for surface phone to be out.
  • hmm folks new information indicates that Microsoft's first folding Mini tablet will
    be about the size of it's 2010 "courier" 2 screen folding Tablet Electronic. this is
    known as the MS Surface "Centaurus" Project" that Microsoft has been working
    on for a year. All this Tech may first appear on the Centaurus device that
    rumor says will come to the Market place late 2019
  • But why would we buy such a device when all the people who invested huge amounts of money and time in the Lumia phones all up to the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL were let down by MS? I mean does MS has any credibility left at all? Seriously? I mean I cannot see how I would be able to trust MS after they promised to build the windows phone devices if no OEM would and that they would be fully committed to the platform and then jumped all on the Android platform and announced a date of death for Windows 10 Mobile....
  • but do we need such a thing? I mean it is already here. Some Android phones already have fold-able/dual screens and they can also use MS Office or Google docs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpdR-bdV08c I mean this is getting weird.