Windows surprise? Switch devices, continue tasks

stock.xchng user Mattox
stock.xchng user Mattox

COMMENTARY A new patent application filed by Microsoft (MSFT) in July 2010 and made public last week suggests what could be an intriguing feature for Windows 8. The title, which really says it all, is Methods for Supporting Users with Task Continuity and Completion Across Devices and Time.

One of the banes of a fractured digital life is getting things done across multiple devices. The growth of such companies as Dropbox and Evernote reflects how important it is to continue work (or play) from one device to another. Having cloud storage or a note system that is transparent across multiple platforms is a great step. But such capabilities don't let you easily pick up where you left off. 

That's why a feature like the one described in the patent application could be a great advance. Here's the abstract, which, while not being the subject of potential legal protection, gets the concept across:

Concepts and technologies are described herein for providing task continuity and supporting task completion across devices and time. A task management application is configured to monitor one or more interactions between a user and a device. The interactions can include the use of the device, the use of one or more applications, and/or other tasks, subtasks, or other operations. Predictive models constructed from data or logical models can be used to predict the attention resources available or allocated to a task or subtask as well as the attention and affordances available within a context for addressing the task and these inferences can be used to mark or route the task for later reminding and display. In some embodiments, the task management application is configured to remind or execute a follow-up action when a session is resumed. Embodiments include providing users with easy to use gestures and mechanisms for providing input about desired follow up on the same or other devices.

In other words, the system would know where you left off in some task and be able to send it to the right device to continue (you log off a desktop and onto a smartphone) and even send you reminders. Under this idea, you could be in the middle of reviewing email, have to stop in mid-reply to get to the airport, and then, while waiting for your plane, start a tablet or smartphone and pick up exactly where you left off -- after getting a reminder message.

This concept could extend to playing music or videos, business applications, or virtually any other activity for which users employ a range of devices. Microsoft could put such a feature into both Windows 8 and Windows Phone and hope it could become another reason why people might use both products.

But then, Microsoft would have to get a lot smarter about marketing to make the existence of the benefit obvious. It took Apple (AAPL) coming out with its voice system Siri to get Microsoft to say that Windows Phone had included voice commands a year before.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.