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Microsoft patents Switch-like detachable controllers

Project xCloud should have optional mini Xbox controllers for on-the-go play

By Derek Strickland from Jul 13, 2019 @ 22:15 CDT

Microsoft's new Project xCloud game streaming service could get its own transforming wireless mini controllers similar to the Switch.

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Microsoft recently published a very interesting patent that gives some clues on its upcoming streaming plans. The patent, which was filed in 2017 and published this month, shows two very Switch-like controllers that detach from a charging base. The controllers are specifically made for touchscreen devices and gamers can apparently use each half to play games similar to the Switch's JoyCons.

This small and compact splitting controller is a perfect fit for the new Project xCloud streaming subscription, which beams Xbox games directly to on-the-go devices like phones, tablets, and laptops. Playing fully-fledged console and PC games on a phone isn't really possible without an actual controller, and this new peripheral should be a separate mobile-optimized accessory sold alongside the service.

The patent itself is actually for a charging module, not two breakaway controllers that combine together like the JoyCon Grip, but the transforming peripheral is clearly illustrated in multiple configurations. These controllers can pair with a touchscreen device in various ways. There's wired connectivity for improved latency, or wireless for convenience.

The document is extremely technical and like any patent, it covers a massive amount of permutations of the same idea; there's mention of the controllers slotting into the side of actual touchscreen devices just like how the JoyCons attach to the sides of the Nintendo Switch.

Check below for a ton of info from the patent itself, and also remember there's no guarantee we'll see the controllers actually release. I think it's extremely likely Microsoft will launch some sort of mini Xbox controller to compliment Project xCloud, but they could be pretty different than what's shown here.

Patents don't always indicate a final product. A lot of what's included is just there to cover all the bases, and the final product typically only uses a small portion of the patent--if any at all.

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FIG. 1

Abstract: A charging device for one or more input modules for a touch-screen device is described. The charging device comprises a charging mechanism and portions which are shaped to receive an input module. The charging mechanism comprises a power input and a power output. The power input is configured to receive power from an external power source and the power input is configured to provide power to one or more input modules which are attached to the charging device.

FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of a system 100 which comprises two removable input modules 104 which can be temporarily attached to a touch-screen device 108 and which provide input controls 114. As shown in FIG. 1, the input modules 104 are temporarily attached around a periphery of the touch-screen device 108 such that they obscure very little or none of the display area 120.

Where the touch-screen device 108 is a touch-screen computing device (e.g. a smartphone, tablet computer, etc.), the inputs are mapped to software running on the touch-screen computing device and where the touch-screen device is a peripheral (i.e. a touch-screen peripheral device) for a computing device (e.g. a touch-sensitive display for a desktop computer), the inputs are mapped to software running on that computing device.

Each input module 108 communicates with the computing device either directly or via the other input module and this communication uses a wire-free communication element (using, for example, wireless technologies, light, sound, etc.) within each input module 104. Subsequently (e.g. when the user has finished interacting with the touch-screen device or when the module is not needed), the module 104 can be detached from the touch-screen device 108 and stored until it is next used by the user (e.g. connected to the same touch-screen device or a different touch-screen device).

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FIG. 2

FIG. 2 comprises two attachment portions 202, each of which is configured (e.g. shaped) to receive an input module 104; however in other examples, a charging device may comprise a single attachment portion or more than two attachment portions (i.e. to receive more than two input modules). The charging device 200 also comprises a charging mechanism (or arrangement) for charging the input modules 104.

Once the input modules 104 are attached to the charging device 200 (via attachment portions 202), the charging device 200 and input modules 104 form a single composite device 210. This has the effect that a user need only hold one of the input modules 104 or the charging device 200 and the composite device 210 remains intact and moves together as if the modules and charging device were permanently joined together. The single composite device 210 may, in some examples, be a rigid device and in other examples may comprise flexible (e.g. bendable) sections or connections (e.g. between the charging device and an input modules).

In various examples, the single composite device 210 formed from the charging device 200 and one or more input modules 104 may operate as a user input device (e.g. a game controller) for a computing device (e.g. touch-screen computing device 108 or another computing device). The single composite device 210 may communicate via a wired link (e.g. via micro-USB connector 204) or wireless link with the computing device. Where a wired link is used, this may reduce the latency (of input commands via input controls 114 reaching the computing device) and power consumption of the composite device 210.

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FIG. 3

FIG. 3 shows a schematic diagram of another example charging device 200 which is connected to two input modules 104 to form a composite device 210. The charging device 200 comprises a power input 302 which receives power from an external source (e.g. from the mains electricity supply via a wire or using inductive power transfer) and a power output 304 for each input module 104 which can be attached to the charging device 200. The power input 302 and power output(s) 304 may be collectively referred to as the charging mechanism. The charging mechanism may also comprise a battery 306.

In use, the charging device 200 may charge the input modules 104 (e.g. power source 305 within an input module 104) from the external power source and/or the internal battery 306. For example, if the charging device 200 is connected to an external power source (via power input 302), the external power source may be used to charge the internal battery 306 and the internal battery 306 may be used to provide power to the input modules 104 (via the power outputs 304 and power inputs 307) and any other active elements within the charging device (e.g. processor 308, memory 310, input control 314, wired/wireless communication element 316, sensor 318, output device 322, etc.).

Alternatively, the external power source may be used to provide power to the input modules 104 (bypassing battery 306) and to charge the internal battery 306, with the internal battery 306 being used to provide power to the input modules only in the absence of an external power source. In other examples, the battery 306 may only ever be used to power active elements within the charging device 200 (e.g. processor 308, memory 310, input control 314, wired/wireless communication element 316, sensor 318, output device 322, etc.) and the power transferred to the input module(s) may only be provided by the external power source (received via power input 302).

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