A recently-filed patent application shows that Microsoft may be changing a future Surface Book generation in major ways. And no, it doesn’t involve that crazy hinge.
“A computing device … includes a main computing unit and a detachable writing input device, joined by a connecting mechanism,” the patent application notes, describing how Surface Book works today. “The main computing unit includes a main display device, while the writing input device hosts a keyboard and a writing surface. The writing surface, in turn, includes a digitizer for capturing ink data in response to a user drawing on the writing surface, and a writing display device for displaying ink strokes associated with the ink data that has been captured by the digitizer.”
That writing surface, of course, is new and is the point of the patent application. Based on the description and on the accompanying diagrams, it appears that Microsoft is investigating whether it can add a smartpen digitizer and a “writing display device” to one or both sides of the touchpad on the wrist rest area of Surface Book. The entire base of the unit, which includes the keyboard, touchpad, and these new components, along with a secondary battery, would be removable, as with Surface Book today.
“A user may interact with the writing input device in a manner similar to a physical pad of paper,” the application continues. “This capability improves the user’s note-taking experience by not requiring the user to assume an unnatural posture while taking notes.”
The issue described here, of course, is common to all pen-enabled laptops: It’s unnatural to write directly on the display while the device is in a traditional laptop mode. Surface Book, of course, allows you to remove the display, called the Clipboard, but doing so eliminates the ability to also use the hardware keyboard and touchpad simultaneously. So it appears that the patent application addresses this issue by allowing pen-based notetaking while the keyboard and touchpad are still attached, and while the Surface Book is in a traditional laptop usage mode.
According to the patent, a “triggering event” will transfer the captured digital ink from the writing input device to the “main computing unit”—the Clipboard, which contains Surface Book’s CPU, RAM, and storage—presumably so that it is added to whatever application the user is using.
Interestingly, the patent application also describes an optional “mechanism for securing the pen when it is not in use.” This is a key complaint about most Surface PCs, almost none of which include a secure method for storing the Surface Pen. “The writing input device … includes a receptacle … in its housing for storing the pen.” The application suggests that Surface Book could possibly “have a signature color, such as red or blue or green” as well.
And. Hm. This makes me wonder if what we’re really looking at—or are also looking at—is a future Surface Pro with Type Cover design idea. If you think about how Surface Book and Surface Pro work today—with the “guts” in the top and the keyboard/touchpad separate—it’s possible that future versions would both include the changes suggested here. (After all, Surface Pro X does include a pen receptacle in one of its Type Covers.)
So, we’ll have to wait and see whether Microsoft ever gets around to implementing this idea. But it looks interesting.