When Microsoft isn't busy transforming living rooms into giant Xbox games, it's working on incredible new technologies. The latest Microsoft Research work sees the company investigate the idea of a transparent smart cover for a Surface tablet. FlexSense is a transparent piece of plastic that can sit on top of a tablet and provides some truly unique methods of input, without the need for external sensors like cameras. Microsoft's demonstration shows how you could physically peel or flip layers of a user interface or naturally reveal specific parts of an image that has a filter applied, all by using piezoelectric sensors within the thin layer of film.
In an application like Photoshop it's easy to imagine, as Microsoft does, a method to use the smart cover to manipulate images by peeling it to quickly reveal layers that are hidden behind. The ability for the cover to work as a transparent digital piece of paper could also help with digital key frame animation, to allow animators to lift and draw each individual frame. In games like a crossword you could peel to check the solution for a puzzle, or even use the entire smart cover as a gaming controller to bend and flex through games. There's also a variety of ways this type of cover could be used in medical situations where doctors need to quickly assess X-ray images alongside other data.
As always, this is just Microsoft Research work and will not likely make its way to the market anytime soon, but Microsoft is continually experimenting with its own Surface covers. Last year Microsoft revealed its Surface Blades concept, hinting at a future where the company could use its smart cover for something more than just a keyboard thanks to the thousands of sensors embedded within it. The concept of two touchscreens side-by-side in a book-like device was something Microsoft experimented with its notorious Courier device. Although Courier never made it to market, the flexibility of a paper-like smart cover and the combination of Microsoft's Surface blades concept could make for an interesting tablet future.