Everyone loves a foldable phone

Both Google and Microsoft filed foldable-phone-related patents this week. Could more bendy phones be on the horizon?

A drawing of a paper origami crane

Is this the next Pixel Phone?

Image: Protocol

Another week of neat patent filings from the big tech companies. Amazon wants to help you not waste time, Apple cares about battery life, and both Google and Microsoft have bendy phones on the brain.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.


Foldable screen for a bendy phone

Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have loved the idea of a big phone — bigger screen, longer battery life, easier to hold — but wish that it could do what a small phone does: fit comfortably in a pocket. Everyone from LG to Samsung to Motorola has tried to make foldable phones in the last few years, but none have hit the mainstream. The main complaint is that the screen is too fragile to withstand all that folding.

This patent imagines making a foldable screen that attaches to the foldable OLED screen, giving the entire thing a little more structure, durability and support. It outlines various configurations of links and brackets that can bend and move in various ways. Looks like the Pixel might have a bendy future.


Your order's ready

My favorite thing to do during quarantine was pick up orders: I ordered something via an app, and was then alerted when my order was ready. Then I'd hop in the car, park in a designated spot and pop the trunk so the sales associate could put my bags in the car. Each store had various levels of sophistication on how their app worked. Some asked you to text a number when you got there, some asked you to enter your spot number into the app. And some, like this patent describes, just knew when you were coming.

This patent lays out how a store can be alerted when a customer is coming, so neither the customer nor the salesperson needs to sit around and wait. By having the customer opt in for the app to track their location, speed or direction, the app can make a pretty solid guess about when the customer will show up. Or, by using geographical fences, the salesperson could be alerted how far away the customer is, and do various tasks (start grabbing things off the shelves, for example) that will make pickup orders even more efficient.


Better way to find your friends

The Find My feature on the iPhone lets you find the location of your Apple devices, if you have it turned on on each device. It also lets you send your location to friends and family, and if they want, they can share their location with you, too. It's key for parents, who want to keep an eye on where their teens are going. And it's fun to share your location with friends, so you don't have to ever text "When will you be here??" again.

The problem with location tracking is that it eats up a ton of battery and system resources. But this patent imagines a way to save battery life, as it assumes that you don't always need to know someone's precise location (what the patent calls a "deep location"). If you do want to know more precisely where your friends are, you can ask Find My to go a little deeper, which is where the battery-sucking GPS comes in, but only briefly, and you can even stop sharing your location completely after even just a few minutes.

Understand my crappy handwriting better

I don't have the best handwriting, but if you asked my iPhone what it thought of my handwriting, it would tell you that I don't know what I'm doing. But it's not my fault! The iPhone has a hard time figuring out what I'm trying to say even when I write block letters in all caps. This patent wants to make writing on a phone even easier, by tweaking the way the phone recognizes inputs, including how hard you press on the screen.


AR for everyone

As AR devices become more popular in enterprise, IT departments will have to figure out how to maintain all the devices so that they're up to date and don't have any issues. This patent wants to make that process a bit easier, by allowing multiple devices to be maintained and updated at once.

Sign in much faster

There's absolutely nothing worse than using an AR or VR device and having to type in a password, letter by letter, hoping that you don't mess something up because it makes you want to throw something. This patent offers various alternatives, including using a phone number or numbered code to log you in much faster.


Another foldable phone?

Looks like the foldable Pixel Phone might have some competition: Microsoft is also thinking about a foldable phone future, but of the UI, not the screen itself. It lays out all the various ways that the UI can turn ugly if it's in a folded or unfolded state. Maybe Google and Microsoft should team up on a Windows Pixel Phone?


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Caitlin McGarry is the news editor at Protocol.

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