Back in 2013, Patently Apple posted a patent report about a potential MacBook with a detachable display to act as a tablet for leisurely reading and web surfing. I thought then as I still do, that it was a very innovative idea for its time. In the end, Apple didn’t want to hurt iPad sales and never brought it to market. Apple’s competitor Microsoft loved the idea and quickly brought it Surface Book to market in 2015.
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Today’s Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 and 5 offer full touch screen displays and one of their latest patents shows us that they want to provide artists and others with the ability using a pen or finger on a secondary display, like the Touch Bar, but with a more realistic larger and versatile display area that doubles as a virtual trackpad and secondary user interface.
The US Patent Office published a patent from Microsoft on Thursday titled “Modeless Augmentations to a Virtual Trackpad on a Multiple Screen Computing Device.”
Microsoft’s patent abstract states that the technologies found in their patent filing address various technical and user experience problems by augmenting the functionality provided by virtual on-screen trackpads without requiring users to switch between modes. In this way, users can access extended functionality without interfering with expected traditional trackpad functionality (eg, moving a cursor, clicking, and scrolling). In particular, technologies are disclosed for modeless digital pen input to a virtual trackpad, modeless gestures for summoning user interfaces, modeless gestures utilizing position relative to adjacent user interfaces, and modeless cursor control and interaction with virtual touch targets.
Microsoft’s patent FIG. 1 below is a schematic diagram illustrating aspects of the configuration and operation of a multiple screen computing device that implements the disclosed technologies in one particular configuration; FIG. 4 illustrates the use of a digital pen that could be used to sign a signature on a form or draw; FIG. 7 illustrates a schematic with aspects of a mechanism for modelessly summoning user interfaces in a virtual trackpad area.
Microsoft’s patent FIG. 16 and 19 show aspects of a mechanism for enabling modeless cursor control and interaction with virtual touch targets including a digital dial to adjust audio or other features.
In theory, the versatility of Microsoft’s invention of a notebook with a fully functional secondary touch display seems vastly superior to Apple’s now defunct MacBook with Touch Bar. The patent concept seems to have been born from Microsoft’s Surface Neo, a dual display tablet project that got put on hold as they contemplate shifting to a bendable table display instead of two displays with a hinge in the middle. The image below illustrates the keyboard at the bottom with the touch screen area above the keyboard. It’s the same idea in a new Notebook format.
For more on Microsoft’s invention, review the patent application US 20220382447 A1.
In 2016, Phil Schiller warned us of the evils of a full touch display on MacBooks and then introduced Apple’s newly invented ‘Touch Bar’ which critics and MacBook Pro users alike gave it a hardy thumbs down. Will Apple ever reconsider resurrecting the idea to be more like Microsoft’s version, or will Microsoft beat Apple to the punch once again?
On the flipside, PC OEMs are developing new Mobile PC concepts to shake up this sector. Lenovo’s ThnkPad X1 Fold is definitely a trend that could breakout over the next few years. The Lenovo concept laptop with an expandable display is another interesting idea and finally, Apple continues to work on a glass MacBook with or without a dual display that could offer reversible device charging as noted in the patent figures below.
After the economic downturn has run its course and supply chain issues are a thing of the past, we could be in store for interesting times in the mobile PC space with far more choices.