Apple’s MacBooks haven’t changed much in the past decade. Some of the latest models have been recently redesigned with modern features, but their shape remains that of traditional laptops. It’s not because of a lack of ideas. In between each refresh of the model, a torrent of patents has been conjured up by Apple inventors who are probably locked somewhere deep in the bowels of the Cupertino starship.
Rarely do these ideas move from page to product, but they’re still fun to explore, if only to see what concepts Apple could explore deep into the future. In that regard, Apple today was: granted a patent that describes transforming the MacBook deck into a flexible input surface or wireless charging pad for the iPhone.
Stay here with me. In this patent, Apple is considering using transparent, dielectric materials such as plastic, glass, or ceramic to form a continuous touch-sensitive input surface. It then describes several ways in which this surface can be used to “enhance the look and feel of the device without the drawbacks of some traditional device constructions.”
One way is to replace a traditional touch keyboard with an all-digital keyboard, powered by a glass touch-sensitive surface. You could even change the layout of the keyboard: a patent image shows it in an ergonomic layout (see above). I’m imagining something similar to the Halo keyboard on the Lenovo Yoga Book C930† I cringe at the thought, and yet Lenovo has found a way not to make an e-ink keyboard worthless. Check out what Gizmodo alum Sam Rutherford said about it:
“I’m not going to dance around it and say it’s perfect, it’s not. But in some ways I’d rather type on the flat surface of the C930 than on the super-stiff and shallow keyboard of a MacBook.”
Another version presents the keyboard with a flexible “dust cover” made of waterproof materials placed on top of a keyboard mechanism. The keys would still be activated when pressed and the membrane would waterproof and protect the surface from “liquids, dirt or other contaminants”.
With a semi-modular wrist rest, Apple thinks you can keep the traditional keyboard in place and implant a wireless charging pad to charge an iPhone or AirPods. I wonder if there’s enough room for both your wrists and your smartphone – the phone in the image below looks hilariously small, from the bottom of the laptop to the keyboard. From what we’ve heard, Apple is: done with the iPhone mini†
Having such a flexible surface also gives Apple the option to place biometric sensors like fingerprint readers in the palm rest instead of integrating them into the power button. The company is also proposing to add several health sensors to track heart rate, blood oxygen levels and temperature.
Now imagine that the entire area of the palm rest acts as a graphics tablet. It can be completely customizable and customizable based on the program you are using. For example, when you open Adobe Photoshop, the digital keyboard can be turned into a dial with buttons for shortcuts to your most-used editing tools. It would have an improved palm rejection system and could detect how much pressure you apply, similar to Apple’s Force Touch trackpads.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Apple filed three similar patents in 2018. Still, I’m not convinced these features will ever make their way to a MacBook, especially now that Apple is slowly removing the divisive Touch Bar from its laptops (it’s still alive on the MacBook Pro 13). Just never say never. These ideas may one day form the basis of an entirely new product or will be revised or scaled down before making their way into existing devices.
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