Microsoft has patented smartphone-docking technology that would allow the devices to connect to peripherals and networks similar to the way PCs do.
According to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Microsoft has patented a "smart system" that includes a smartphone cradle that allows the device to interface to peripherals, networks and large video displays through a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection.
Some of the peripherals the cradle would allow the smartphone to link up to include printers, TV screens, cameras, external storage devices and speakers, according to the patent, which Microsoft acquired on Jan. 22.
For years Microsoft executives -- particularly Chairman Bill Gates, who is no longer on full-time duty at the company -- have discussed publicly how PCs and smart devices are reaching an intersection, and how PC technology will be available in smaller and smaller devices.
The patent filing reflects this notion. "The cell phone is rapidly evolving into a smart communications device that can provide sufficient computing power and functionality to drive a wide variety of peripherals as well as access network services," according to the filing. "A major impediment to taking advantage of this evolving technology in the cell phone, for example, is the inability to connect the phone to peripheral devices and systems."
Apple's iPhone, introduced in mid-2007, was probably the first and best example of the intersection between PCs and smartphones; it's more like a mini-PC than a mobile phone. With devices based on the Windows Mobile OS that third parties sell, Microsoft also offers a similar hybrid of PC and smartphone.
Microsoft also released a Zune music and video player to compete with Apple's iPod, but the device has garnered only lukewarm customer interest, leaving the future of the product uncertain. Rumors swirled that Microsoft would unveil a combination Zune/Windows Mobile device to rival iPhone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, but that did not happen.
Microsoft did not immediately comment on the patent through its public relations firm Friday. The company doesn't typically comment on technologies it patents, which may or may not end up as products or as a part of products Microsoft sells.