On first sight, Microsoft’s recent patent application makes little sense: A super-smart smartphone mated into a desktop cradle that hooks it up to peripherals like a common all-garden PC. But that’s only until you really think about its potential.
What Microsoft proposes is essentially an intelligent dock that would have networking built-in, a USB hub, some sort of communications hook-up (potentially a VOIP setup), and its own processor, memory, and operating system. It could be connected to an external monitor and keyboard, and would react when a smartphone was placed into it.
In essence, it’s somewhat similar to Palm’s failed Foleo smartphone companion–only that device was intended to merely compliment the smartphone’s functionality with a bigger screen in a portable netbook-sized format.
The secret is that this system, dubbed “Smart Interface System for Mobile Communication Devices,” wouldn’t truly offer any benefits right now. What Microsoft’s looking forward to is the day when smartphones are driven by really powerful processors, enabling them to do just as much as a desktop PC can do now.
By combining some futuristic powerful cell phone with a second processor in the dock, all sorts of opportunities would open up…like powerful gaming graphics (with processing tasks split between the CPUs in the phone and the dock) or a media-center smartphone–with your movies stored on the device, ready to be viewed on the small screen or your main TV.
But the hardware description in the patent reads a little strange: Why would you need a smart dock to connect a keyboard to a phone? Bluetooth keyboard connections are already possible, as are wireless networking solutions in cell phones. Microsoft only intends to illustrate which types of hardware could be connected, since the real intention is to define the smart software that would be developed for the hub/dock and smartphone.
In the end, patents are really about who makes the first mark in the turf–most recently highlighted in the much-hyped battle of words between Palm and Apple. In this case, Microsoft knows that future smartphones will be faster and more capable, so a next-gen hub that’s more sophisticated than a dumb USB cable connected to a stand-alone PC isn’t hard to imagine sitting on our desks in a few years. The company isn’t stupid, it sees its present-day smartphone dominance being rapidly eroded by the iPhone and Android OS. Yet this particular patent doesn’t hint directly at a Zune phone. What it is though, is the Redmond-based company setting its mark in the next-generation territory early.