Microsoft Research prototyped a smartphone Display Cover that works as a second screen

Laurent Giret

From what we’ve seen in all the different “Andromeda” patents in recent years, Microsoft seems to be very much interested in dual-screen mobile devices. The pocketable foldable device with two screens and a rotating hinge that we’ve seen in several patents looks really unique, but the Redmond giant apparently has been exploring other ideas to transform existing smartphones into dual-screen devices.

In a Microsoft Research paper that was published earlier this month and then spotted by WalkingCat, the company describes “a concept smartphone Display Cover, a secondary screen designed to improve productivity and convenience.” The prototype that Microsoft built was a flip cover designed for a Lumia 640 Windows phone, and it came with an e-ink (monochrome) display module that could be used to extend Windows Phone apps.

The prototype cover that Microsoft built was less than 3mm thick, and it communicated with the Lumia 640 via Bluetooth. It’s worth noting that the e-ink display wasn’t touch-enabled, but it had five touch buttons at the bottom of the screen to allow users to pin important information from an app to the secondary display.

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In another image, Microsoft showed different use cases that would have required a touch-enabled e-ink display, including using the secondary display as a keyboard. Microsoft didn’t build such a prototype, so the following images are just meant to showcase the different “laptop-class” tasks that the Redmond giant had in mind.

Screenshot 2018 10 29 at 12.13.57

“Despite the limitations of our basic ‘screen shot’ experience and the lack of full screen touch interaction, anecdotal evidence from our user trials showed the value of easy access to previously stored information such as electronic boarding passes, train timetables and shopping lists,” Microsoft said in the concluding segment of the document. “One limitation raised by users was the monochrome nature of the Display Cover; today’s consumers expect full color displays. We believe this could be addressed in future with the use of color bi-stable displays,” the company added.

Of course, since Microsoft gave up on its Windows Phone platform and Lumia line of smartphones, this prototype will likely never turn into a real product. However, the idea of extending existing smartphones with a second display integrated in a flip cover remains really interesting, and it remains to be seen if this something that other phone manufacturers could explore as well. As for Microsoft, the company seems to have other ideas for its rumored “Surface phone” dual-screen device, including an external cover that could let users ink on it while the device is closed.