Microsoft Patent Suggests Surface Book (and Pro?) Changes

Posted on December 9, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 13 Comments

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.

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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Microsoft Patent Suggests Surface Book (and Pro?) Changes”

  1. Avatar

    anoldamigauser

    Considering how many times I inadvertently move the cursor by hitting the touchpad with my palms, the idea of having another input device directly below my wrists seems ill advised. I would be much more interested in a device that slid or folded out to the side and could replicate the pad of paper that is often next to my keyboard. If it were a Bluetooth device, it could even be detached and placed where the user wants it.

    • Avatar

      MikeGalos

      In reply to AnOldAmigaUser:

      That wouldn't be an issue here (as it wasn't when it was done on the Lenovo W-series a decade ago) because that second input device responds to the signals from a pen and you don't have that in your palm.

      • Avatar

        anoldamigauser

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        Granted, but I would definitely prefer something that folded out or detached. It would, I think, feel more natural.

        I also wonder if input is limited to the size of the device or whether there is a way to continue adding notes or drawing elements. However it will work, should they pull it off, it is an intriguing idea.

  2. Avatar

    lwetzel

    That hinge looks very similar to the present one. Just saying.

  3. Avatar

    BigM72

    this sort of secondary panel concept sounds much more like something Asus would try out than Surface which is relatively conservative in design.

  4. Avatar

    glenn8878

    A 2 screen laptop is more interesting than this. The bottom screen should be able to offer multiple modes for input that could be tailored to the user to use any way they want.

  5. Avatar

    MikeGalos

    Nothing new in the main part. The W series laptops designed for photographers by Lenovo had this a decade ago. (They also had a colorimeter and recalibrated their screen when the cover was closed)

  6. Avatar

    jwpear

    This is interesting. Will SP and SB merge or just share these features?


    I've always wanted to see a kickstand added to the SB slate. Would also be kind of nice to have an optional thin and light type cover for travel scenarios where weight and thinness is more important than battery life. I feel like that would really make the SB a versatile device.


    On the flip side, it would be nice to be able to get a more substantial keyboard base for the SP with similar features as the SB. The typing and touchpad experience on the SB base is just magical to me. I'd love that option in a metal base for SP.

  7. Avatar

    PhilipVasta

    I actually find this idea pretty compelling. At least on a 15 inch device where you have a fair amount of room to write.

  8. Avatar

    mattbg

    Really strange - wouldn't it be a lot more natural to just detach the screen and start writing, or flip it over and write directly on the screen as if on a tablet?


    If I needed to do this, I'd just get out my iPad Pro and start writing. If I open a OneNote notebook on my Windows laptop and the same notebook on my iPad, the two will sync in near-realtime fairly quickly.

    • Avatar

      gregsedwards

      In reply to mattbg:

      Not really. If you've seen the Surface Book keyboard, then you know how much "unused" space there is below the keys that would be perfect for this kind of use. And given the Book doesn't quickly fold back on its keyboard cover like the Pro does, I think this makes a ton of sense...for quick notes and pen inputs.

      And while it's true that OneNote's sync makes it easy to grab another device as needed for penned notes, I'm guessing that Microsoft would prefer if their deluxe $1500 convertible 2-in-1 laptop didn't need to rely on having a competitor's $900 hardware solution handy to complete the solution.

      • Avatar

        mattbg

        In reply to gregsedwards:

        Fair points, but I think they speak to Microsoft's limitations and not using what's already available more broadly - I thought we had moved on from writing anywhere but the screen where pen input was concerned - and especially from writing on a small writing strip that doesn't have the same proportions or size as the screen you're writing on.


        This type of thing falls into the bucket of "never again" to me - I've been disappointed too many times by things that sounded like a great idea at the time but just weren't natural to use and, as a result, never got used.


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