In the last 18 months our Patently Mobile IP blog published three patents from Microsoft (one, two and three) covering a potential dual display / foldable mobile device that may or may not be a next-gen smartphone. Now, according to a report published last Friday we learn that "Microsoft has been working on a new mysterious Surface device for at least two years that's codenamed Andromeda."
According to a Microsoft internal document obtained by The Verge, it's also going to be a pocketable Surface device.
The report notes that "Microsoft describes its Andromeda project as something the company has quietly incubated internally, and that will create a 'new and disruptive' device category to influence the overall Surface roadmap and blur the lines between what's considered PC and mobile. 'It's a new pocketable Surface device form factor that brings together innovative new hardware and software experiences to create a truly personal and versatile computing experience,' is exactly how Microsoft describes the device internally."
The Andromeda device is still being developed in secrecy inside Microsoft, with a wraparound display that bridges the gap of the hinge when it's fully opened. We understand current engineering samples of the pocketable Surface look identical to the 3D concepts created by David Breyer.
Additional 3D Graphic models from David Breyer could be viewed here.
Microsoft has also been experimenting with stylus input for Andromeda, so that the device can fold over like a book and a pen can be used to capture digital ink. Prototype devices include styluses and notepad-like apps to capture notes. Microsoft is also experimenting with ARM processors inside prototype Andromeda devices, but it's not clear if the company will proceed with Intel or Qualcomm for a final device. For more, read The Verge report in full here.
On December 16, 2016 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Korean Report Wildly Speculates that LG is working with Apple, Google & Microsoft to Deliver Foldable Devices by 2018." On December 22, 2016 we followed-up with a report titled "A Leading Supplier of Foldable Display Technology Confirms Five Tech Companies are Testing Foldable Smartphones." So rumors of tech companies such as Microsoft testing a foldable smartphone is far from new.
One of Microsoft's key patents on this kind of foldable device certainly includes the form factor being associated with a smartphone. The patent notes: The "Computing system may take the form of one or more mobile communication devices (e.g., smart phone), mobile computing devices, tablet computers, gaming devices, personal computers."
The patent further notes: "As non-limiting examples, the communication subsystem may be configured for communication via a wireless telephone network, or a wired or wireless local- or wide-area network."
So while Microsoft's internal documents don't spell out a smartphone, their patents definitely do in context with a folding device form factor.
While Microsoft's Surface line-up currently consists of tablets, notebooks and a desktop, the missing piece to round out their hardware is a smartphone/notebook that could possibly challenge Google's Pixel and Apple's iPhone.
To escape 'copycat' calls and reviews, Microsoft is likely hoping that a fresh approach to a smartphone could win them a solid base in the U.S. and later to Windows fans around the globe.
Is Microsoft's Andromeda project a pipe dream or a possible disruptive new smartphone that could take Apple and Google by surprise?
Apple's iPhone introduced a new kind of smartphone back in 2007 and disrupted the market for a solid decade. Microsoft may see their foldable smartphone as the next great thing. The smartphone is getting a little boring and something refreshing just may shake things up in a positive way.
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