The Non-Comeback: Ruining Microsoft's phone ideas

by Uluroo — January 4, 2018

Are we deliberately endorsing the worst possible concepts?

Every so often in the technology field, a product comes along that spawns an industry of imitators and sets the path for the next great period of innovation. The Mac did this back in 1984. Then there were the iPhone and iPod in the early 2000s. These products were truly revoutionary in that they not only sold well, but that countless other companies followed in their footsteps to help achieve the device's vision.

There are products like that, and then there are some that are so completely pointless that they are pretty much the opposite of the revolutionary ones.

And someone has to get paid to endorse them, right?

Writing for PCMag, John C. Dvorak is reading the tech industry's tea leaves, and he's brought us "Microsoft Phone: Bend, Fold, and Wear." Indeed, Microsoft is not re-entering the smartphone market with a "regular" foldable phone; it's something far, far worse. Just wait; this one's a real treat.

Since I first wrote about the possibility of the Microsoft Surface Phone ... it seems as if Microsoft is inventing and patenting various folding technologies whereby an OLED screen can unfold into a large screen phone or tablet.

Cool! Uluroo likes to think that you can't go wrong with a concept for something; most ideas work fine if you can execute them properly. Uluroo thinks foldable phones will be awesome as long as they don't sacrifice anything in the way of performance, battery life, or anything else. The concept is great; the execution remains to be seen.

This is nothing new ... Samsung has shown prototypes of a cute "folds like a book" phone.

"That's cute. Wait till you see what a real foldable phone should be, and you'll be shivering in your winter jackets."

Microsoft once showed a "folds like a book" laptop that was never released.

Pardon Uluroo if this is offensive to some readers, but... don't all laptops fold like books? Uluroo supposes Dvorak may be referring to a dual-screen laptop with normal hinges, but whatever he's talking about, he should do a bit more 'splainin'.

But what really intrigues me is something I saw at a trade show three years ago.

A foldable phone?

Well, yes. But it isn't what you expect (unless you took hints from Dvorak's article's title).

It was a flexible LCD display that took the form of a bracelet.

[Everyone's jaws collectively drop; our tongues hang uselessly as we listen, transfixed.]

It wrapped around the wrist and was going to be a fully functional phone that connected to the user via some Bluetooth lash-up.

Uluroo Googled "Bluetooth lash-up" because he had zero clue what Dvorak is talking about, but the closest thing he could get was an eyelash extension; this, Uluroo suspects, is not what Dvorak is talking about. (Ironically, one of the Google search results was Dvorak's own article. Does this count as circular reasoning, or what?) If Google has no idea what Dvorak means... that leaves John C. Dvorak as the last man alive who knows what this thing is.

In other words, what is the man talking about? Why does a phone need to connect to its user via Bluetooth in the first place? Does it get its processing power via a chip implant in the user's brain?

There was something nerdy-cool about the thing.

"Nerdy-cool" is exactly what Microsoft needs to get back into the smartphone game. (Remember, Dvorak is proposing that Microsoft should mass-produce this device.)

It was just a thin piece of plastic and very light. It has more appeal than a ho-hum traditional looking wrist watch. It had a lot of potential.

If this is a thin, light piece of plastic, what about performance and battery life—

For the purpose of this article I’ll call it a cuff phone. Just imagine the iPhone as a thin sheet of OLED material that would wrap around your wrist with the microelectronics of the Apple watch.

Microsoft in 2019: "Introducing the first phone you can shatter by banging your wrist on a doorframe! Here's our excuse for not being able to pack enough processing power into our cuff phone. You see, the cuff phone is so revolutionarily slim that we can't put a good bendable processor in there! And if you were hoping to have any sort of battery life... well, we'll have to disappoint you again!"

Since the things would be an adornment it could be designed to put on a fancy light show-type display when not being used. Perfect for parties.

Thus ruining your social life.

"Yo, man, listen up. See how I'm totally the life of the party with my light-up wrist! See the fireworks?"

"You listen up! See my butterflies on my wrist? I'm the real life of the party, loser!"

"Get a life, you guys! I have kittens on my wrist."

[Everyone turns to stare at the person with the kittens. Collective Awwww rises from the group.]

The display patterns could be developed by artists and sold like ringtones. Both moving and stationary displays would be available. The display art could be a topic of conversation.

"Whoaaaaa... what pretty flowers you have on your wrist!"

"Yeah! Here... hang on a second..." [Person tries in vain to rotate wrist far enough to show the rest of the flowers.] "There! See that blue one?"

"What blue one?"

[Pointing.] "There!"

[Conversation continues like this for 15 minutes until both people have to leave, rendering conversation useless.]

The cuff phone would be a device that replaced the clunky candy bar phone, the Apple Watch ($329.00 at Best Buy), even jewelry.

First, the "candy bar" phone exists because sliding a device into your pocket is way easier than putting it on your wrist when you're done with it. Uluroo can't imagine taking his Apple Watch off his wrist when he wants to use it and putting it back when he's done. (Theoretically the cuff phone would be usable like a smartwatch when on your wrist, but the act of taking it off and putting it back on is what Uluroo's getting at.) The cuff phone is clunkier than the candy bar phone.

Second, to really replace the Apple Watch (why does Dvorak include a link to buy it?), the cuff phone would need bendable heart rate sensors, which as far as Uluroo knows do not exist. The user would need to put it back on their wrist in the perfect place for the heart rate sensor to align properly. (This is difficult because the cuff phone's screen would extend around the wrist.

This sort of device would require a slight cultural shift. But the smartphone showed how easy that can be, once it catches on.

SillyBands (sorry to mention this, folks) were a cultural shift that caught on. But eventually everyone realized they were ridiculous and WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY ARM THE BLOOD CAN'T REACH MY HAND!

Obviously the cuff phone is not another SillyBands. But not every cultural shift happens because something is good, and the iPhone did not prove that cultural shifts are easy. The fact that it created such a shift is what made the iPhone so remarkable.

In the past, Microsoft has dropped the ball because the corporate culture internally rejects people who say anything negative about any new product or idea. Hence you see a lot of bad or poorly executed ideas.

What Microsoft needs is someone who's willing to say, "See this smartphone? Let's get it on people's wrists."

So Microsoft might suffer from stage fright when it comes to bringing out something radical like a cuff phone. But one thing is for certain, based on these patents, something is afoot. And it folds.

A FOOT THAT FOLDS? That's gross.

Ohh... never mind. Uluroo misread that.

Even assuming that Microsoft could jump the technological barriers that would make a cuff phone a low-performance device, the whole thing is just a bad concept. It's clunkier than normal phones. Who wants to basically put a watch on whenever they're done using their smartphone? And who really thinks that a cuff phone would be "perfect for parties" or "a topic of conversation"?

Hey, maybe cuff phones will catch on and Uluroo will be proven wrong. But you won't catch Uluroo wearing a fireworks show on his wrist to move up the social ladder, especially because this is the same device advertised as "nerdy-cool." The cuff phone's concept is a mess, and its execution is almost impossible. Please, can we just stick with regular folding phones?

As far as ideas go, this one didn't really get in the air in the three years since Dvorak saw it at that trade show. Uluroo supposes it didn't get off the runway. More like it got stuck in the hangar. Maybe nobody's made it in the past three years because it just isn't a good idea.