Microsoft patents new kind of magnetic lock for Continuum for Phones

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With Continuum for Phones Microsoft is now able to extend windows phones to the big screen, but in a patent application Microsoft notes that in this mobile world this arrangement is still somewhat awkward.

They write:

Mobile computing devices have, over the last few years, gained substantial computing and graphics capabilities. These mobile devices are capable of presenting content at resolutions and speeds only performed by large computing devices, such as desktop computers, of a few year ago.

These mobile computing devices, however, are limited by their small displays. To address this limitation, some users buy larger displays, plug these displays into their mobile devices, and, through various setting changes, device drivers, and so forth enable their mobile devices to present content on a larger display. This solution, however, struggles to be mobile—in many cases this solution approximates a desktop sort of system only with the mobile device acting as the processor, but with many of the same limitations as current desktops, such as being bulky, heavy, or slow to set up.

Some other partial solutions exist, such as docking stations or other peripheral attachments to a mobile device. These are often bulky and heavy, but can be fairly quick to set up. They still struggle, however, with poor integration and undesirable form factors. Even the better peripheral display systems often fail to provide a satisfactory design because of objects that jut out or holes that pierce the mobile device or display body. Examples include exposed latches, latch holes, tabs hooks, and tab reception detents, to name just a few. Some techniques have attempted to address this failure in design through electromagnets or permanent magnets. Electromagnets, however, are unsatisfactory due to their power requirements and low magnetic force. Current techniques that use permanent magnets require excessive force to separate the display from the mobile device. These are but a few of the limitations of current techniques and devices.

Microsoft has however developed a new type of magnetic lock which will securely lock two components together while still being able to easily disengage the components electronically.

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This document describes a lockable display and techniques enabling use of lockable displays. The techniques enable computing devices to lock and unlock a display using little or no power and with a seamless design. The techniques and apparatuses can also enable integration between a lockable display and various computing devices, including to create a nearly seamless physical and functional design.

In one embodiment, for example, a lockable display locks to an existing display of a tablet or laptop computer and, with little or no effort from the user, a dual-display system is created that is both physically and functionally integrated. A user may, simply by moving a lockable display near to an existing display, cause the lockable display to be strongly locked and have content currently on the existing display to be switched over to the lockable display or jointly presented over both displays, thereby substantially increasing the total display area used by the tablet or laptop.

The technology would use a combination of permanent magnets that can be electrically repositioned, giving the advantages of electromagnets without the continuous power drain.

More important than the details of the invention however is that Microsoft is looking beyond the desktop paradigm for Continuum for Phones, which means that we may in fact eventually see our phones be used as the brains of tablets and other modular computing devices.

See the full patent here.

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