Microsoft wants to redefine the tablet experience

Microsoft now makes nearly $1 billion per quarter from Surface devices according to its latest earnings report, but this figure still represents only a small portion of the overall mobile market. One of the ways the company has been trying to secure a bigger share of the pie is by offering up various value-added software features designed to help users be more productive.

A filing from Redmond’s newest batch patent applications indicates that the current focus of its efforts is improving viewability of the Surface Pro and Surface Book, its recently refreshed hybrid laptop. The two devices already lend themselves well to displaying multimedia content thanks to their high-definition screens, but Microsoft still see room for improvement in the way that information is presented. More specifically, the company wants to have display settings adjusted automatically for optimal viewing as a user changes their position.

Redmond’s engineers plan to accomplish that using a combination of data from the movement sensors built into its devices and face measurements taken via the front-facing camera. The software outlined in its patent filing relies on these readings to continuously track how the device on which it’s running is positioned relative to the user’s point of view. According to Microsoft, a “display compensation” mechanism will modify the content that is shown on the screen whenever a significant change occurs.

In a scenario where a user, say, switches from using their Surface Book as a laptop to holding the detachable screen in tablet mode, the software can change the size of text based on how far the display is from their eyes. If the screen is 25 percent farther, the compensation mechanism will apply a 25 percent zoom or some other appropriate amount depending on what content is being viewed. It’s the same concept that Microsoft outlined in a 2014 patent filing that was speculated at the time to be related to its since-scrapped McLaren smartphone. The difference is that this new iteration of the technology also takes users’ viewing angle into account.

As a result, content can be automatically shifted to a different position on the screen if the default display arrangement isn’t convenient. The functionality should be particularly handy for business professionals in situations where they might want to show something to a colleague on the other end of the conference table or during a lunch meeting. Since many workers buy tablets for the specific purpose of facilitating easier collaboration, Microsoft’s software could have broad appeal if it ever gets off the drawing board. The company will need all the productivity features if it wants to break Apple’s dominance of the enterprise mobile market.