With nearly ten years of research on the topic, Microsoft has perfected the folding tablet. The hinge, the screen, opening and closing, durability, magnets, edges, touch input, pen input, audio, the lot.
Ten years ago
It started ten years ago, in 2008, when the brains at Microsoft came up with the ultimate tablet. A folding tablet. It required technology that did not exist, and it needed it now. So Microsoft had to invent it, build it, sell it, or shelve the idea completely. Ultimately it sat on the shelf.
The Microsoft Courier folding tablet remained but a dream.
The idea never went away, the team changed and evolved, but the idea never went away. Long term dreams were set around the birth of the folding tablet.
Technology as it was in 2008 would not be able to make it happen.
Technology as it is now in 2018 is getting close to making it happen.
Somewhere deep in a bunker inside Microsoft, the prototype lives.
The folding tablet
The success of a folding tablet relies on many things. It needs to fold, it needs a hinge, a screen, a clasp, neat edges. It needs to be durable, rugged, and survive being dropped. It needs to have a touch screen in tablet mode, and a touch screen or number pad in phone mode. It needs to be more than a phone due to its price. It needs to be a tablet that can do tablet things, but at this price, it needs to be a full computer.
It needs apps, music, video, internet access.
Oh, and it needs to be a phone.
The ultimate solution would be a bendy screen. Leave that for version two or three.
Version one can have two flat, non-bendy screens, joined by a hinge, with a tiny panel gap that is barely noticeable when the device is open.
It needs to bend both ways.
When its a tablet, it needs to unfold and become a tablet-size device.
When its a phone, it needs to fold up and be a phone-sized device.
When I want to hold it and tap on it in phone mode, I need a screen, so the hinge needs to let me fold it all the way over to have the screens on the outside, then fold all the way back, so the case is on the outside and the screen is on the inside, when I put it away.
Ah yes, the screen. It needs to be high quality, high resolution, power efficient, matte, crisp, clear, bendy or not bendy. It needs to be a touch screen. It needs to be pen compatible.
It needs to be phone-sized to fit in my pocket, then double in size when unfolded.
It needs to be durable.
Opening and closing: durability
Then there was the biggest part of the whole exercise: the one big thing that needed a solution. It had to be an open and shut case.
It needed to be durable. It needed a hinge mechanism that could open and close 20 to 200 times a day. The hinges needed to be flexible, but also stiff and strong. They needed to latch and unlatch. They needed to keep the device closed when it was closed, and open when it was open.
If it was in Laptop mode, with one screen being used as a keyboard and the other being used as the screen, then the hinge needed to stay open at 90 degrees or 100 degrees, and not wobble.
Version One of the product would have two flat, non-bendy screens, joined by a hinge. It would need perfect panel gaps, meaning, almost no gap.
Version Two or Version Three would need to have a bendy screen, which isn't available in 2017, and is becoming available in 2018, but is still far too expensive.
Breakthrough time. Magnets can keep the case closed. Magnets can hold and repel.
Magnets can be used to supplement the hinge to keep the device closed tight. They can also be used to sense the angle of the hinge, and provide assistance to the physical hinge mechanism to keep the screens apart at a certain angle.
Magnets can also keep the pen locked to the side of the phone, or keep it latched in a silo, and eject it.
The Surface team are masters at giving devices edges. Smooth, soft, hard, round, square, beveled, anything you like. Make it comfortable, make it sporty, classic, or futuristic.
It needs to be premium to ultra-premium, it needs to be durable, and it needs to stay crisp, clean, and scratch-free.
The screens need touch input. There's no point having a phone or tablet device debut in 2018 or 2019 or 2020 unless it has a touch screen. What about the pen, though?
Yes, it also needs to have pen input. Fortunately, Microsoft has an amazing grip on pen technology, and the software to go with it.
If it's a phone, it needs to have great audio. It needs a top speaker and a bottom speaker, a speakerphone, microphone, Bluetooth, and USB-C.
If it's a tablet, it needs great audio too. It needs four speakers placed around the device when it's unfolded.
It needs to be able to connect to headsets, speakers, cars, bikes, home stereos, and other devices.
It's Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Wasp.
It needs to be more than a phone, more than a tablet, more than a laptop, more than a basic PC. It needs to be portable, durable, efficient, fast, and always-on. It can't take forever to boot up like Windows 95. It needs to be small, capable, efficient, power-saving, powerful, usable, and it needs to beat the stuffing out of both the phone market and the tablet market to be a success.
It needs to be the type of device that Tony Stark would pull out of his pocket and send an angry email on, before watching Netflix on his 4K laser projector.
Mastering the Hinge
Microsoft has mastered the hinge for Version 1.
They're also 79% complete on Version 2.
Until next time,
XYZtech XYZ Media Group
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