You’re going to need bigger pockets.
The evolution of the mobile phone can’t be tracked neatly by the size of the device. We all laugh now at the bricks with antennas that people carried in the 1990s, but today’s phones are for the most part getting bigger and bigger with every passing year. Flip phones may seem museum relics, but they’re tiny in comparison with the latest iterations of the Galaxy and iPhone brands.
If Microsoft’s latest patent idea comes to fruition, phones may become so large they come with a hinge down the middle and open out like a book. So, you’re going to need bigger pockets.
The new idea would involve placing cameras on either side of a hinged device to allow for the display to be split across two panels. It would effectively double the size of your phone’s screen. That, in turn, would pave the way for dual screen video conferencing, a potential solution to the problem of crowded group video calling on the go.
It may not seem terribly convenient at first thought, but anything that improves the quality of video calls on mobile devices is a welcome consideration, especially when it comes to making business calls.
Microsoft’s Plan for Dual Screen Video Conferencing
Microsoft filed a patent on its new design just a few months ago, so the tech giant is far from ready to show us how it plans to strike a balance between carry-everywhere convenience and radically increased screen size.
The illustrations accompanying the patent show a tablet-like device, hinged down the center like a book, that’s able to be discreetly closed. It would include cameras on each user-facing “page” and a third on the back. That array alone offers the potential to capture several different viewpoints or to incorporate 3D and depth perception. Perhaps views from the trio of cams could even be stitched together in a form of augmented reality that would place the user in otherwise-impossible environments, or at least allow the user to quickly switch viewpoints.
The patent details how the device could facilitate a three-way video conversation where each participant’s image is given its own screen. The real science behind the concept is the interaction between the cameras and the separation of incoming signals into dedicated displays. What it doesn’t include is a description of the overall device itself,
and whether the tech is intended as a phone, tablet, or some new hybrid device. In any case, it does promise a solution to the biggest issue with video calling on smartphones: the size problem.
Making Mobile Video Chat Bigger
VC Daily has long lamented the fact that small mobile screens–by comparison with laptops and desktops–diminish the impact of remote video calling. The form of the mobile product necessitates limited space for visuals, even as manufacturers push the display to the very edge of the phone. Incidentally, that same practicality is also why video calling on smartwatches seems doomed to fail, there’s just no room for more than one caller–and barely that–on those tiny displays.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight beyond expanding the physical size of our devices. And as we mentioned above, there’s a clear limit to how far that can go before we lose the appeal of pocket-sized devices and have to start strapping tablets around our shoulders like little backpacks.
The drawback to a small screen is two-fold. Firstly, if you’re staging a group call with any more than three people, the images become too small to be of real value.
Technologies such as active-speaker detection by Google Hangouts combat this by dedicating the screen to whoever’s currently doing the talking, but the unscripted nature of human conversation can make these disorienting–and can cause everyone else to disappear into a row of anonymous thumbnails.
Mobile Video Isn’t Professional
The second drawback to video conferencing on smartphones is that the small screens limit other multimedia files you can share. It’s currently not practical to receive complex graphs or images on your phone and maintain a visual connection to your meeting. In fact, it’s hard to follow along with a professional video conference at all on a phone, and most of us would concede we do so only when we can’t get to the conference room in person.
Professional mobile video calling should be far more than just a placeholder for an otherwise absent colleague who could do just as well by phoning in on an audio-only call.
Perhaps Microsoft’s dual-screen video conferencing device will be able to help. Short of using a projection or floating hologram, it seems we’re stuck with flat images displayed on solid platforms. The Microsoft patent calls for doubling the size of that screen and the ability to split incoming signals should allow for simultaneous viewpoints–perhaps one screen houses the active speaker in close-up, while the second displays the rest of the room or a multimedia presentation.
It’s likely going to be some time before Microsoft’s patent becomes a product, but let’s hope it finds a way to make mobile video calls more professional and productive.