Apple’s MacBooks haven’t changed much over the past decade. Some of the latest models have recently been redesigned with modern features, but their shape remains that of traditional laptops. It’s not for lack of ideas. Between each model refresh, there’s a flood of patents conjured up by Apple’s inventors that are likely locked away somewhere deep in the bowels of the Cupertino spaceship.
These ideas rarely jump from page to page, but they’re still fun to study, if only to see what concepts Apple might explore deep in the future. On that note, Apple today was issued a patent which describes the transformation of the bridge of the MacBook into a flexible input surface or a wireless charger for the iPhone.
Stay with me here. In this patent, Apple envisions using transparent dielectric materials such as plastic, glass, or ceramic to form a continuous touch input surface. He goes on to describe various ways this surface could be used to “enhance the look and feel of the device without having the drawbacks of some traditional device constructions.”
One way is to replace a traditional touchpad with an all-numeric keypad enabled by a glass touch surface. You could even change the keyboard layout: a patent image shows it in an ergonomic layout (see above). I’m considering something similar to the Halo keyboard on the Lenovo Yoga Book C930. I cringe at the thought, and yet Lenovo has found a way to make an e-ink keyboard not suck. Check out what Gizmodo alum Sam Rutherford had to say:
“I’m not going to dance around this and say it’s perfect, it’s not. But in some ways, I prefer typing on the C930’s flat surface rather than the super-stiff, shallow keyboard you’d get on a MacBook.
Another version imagines the keyboard with a flexible “cloth cover” made of waterproof materials placed above a keyboard mechanism. The keys would still actuate when you pressed them, and the membrane would waterproof and protect the surface from “liquids, debris, or other contaminants.”
With a semi-modular palm rest, Apple thinks you can keep the traditional keyboard in place and implant a wireless charger to charge an iPhone or AirPods. I wonder if there’s enough space for your wrists and your smartphone – the phone in the image below looks incredibly small, reaching from the bottom edge of the laptop only to the keyboard. From what we’ve heard, Apple is made with the iPhone mini.
Having such a flexible surface also gives Apple the ability to place biometric sensors like fingerprint readers in the palm rest instead of building them into the power button. The company also offers to add various health sensors to track heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and temperature.
Now imagine that the entire palm rest area acts as a graphics tablet. It can be fully customizable and adaptable depending on the program you are using. For example, opening Adobe Photoshop could convert the numeric keypad into a rotating dial with buttons for shortcuts to your most frequently used editing tools. It would have an improved palm rejection system and could detect the pressure you apply like Apple’s Force Touch trackpads.
If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because Apple filed three similar patents in 2018. Even so, I’m not convinced these features will ever find their way into a MacBook, especially with Apple slowly phasing out the Touch Bar. which divides its laptops (it’s still alive on the MacBook Pro 13). Just never say never. These ideas could one day form the basis of an entirely new product or will be revised or scaled back before finding their way into existing devices.
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