Apple investigating accessory that turns iPhone, iPad into full-fledged touchscreen laptop...

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2017
An Apple patent application published Thursday details a so-called "thin" portable hardware accessory that boasts the components necessary to act as a laptop surrogate for iPhones and iPads.




As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, Apple's application for an "Electronic accessory device" describes the company's take on an oft-attempted, but never fully realized idea.

Specifically, the IP covers a "thin" accessory, a kind of "headless" device that contains traditional laptop hardware like a large display, physical keyboard, GPU, ports and more, but is incapable of functioning without a host. In this case, an iPhone or iPad would slot into the laptop-esque piece of kit to fill the role of CPU.

Aesthetically, Apple's proposed hardware would be akin to a MacBook, with aluminum mentioned as an ideal enclosure material.

While the accessory can take many forms, the document for the most part remains limited in scope to housings that mimic laptop form factors. In some embodiments, for example, the accessory includes a port shaped to accommodate a host iPhone or iPad. Located in the base portion, this slot might also incorporate a communications interface and a means of power transfer, perhaps Lightning or a Smart Connector.

Alternatively, a host device might transfer data and commands to the accessory via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other wireless protocol. Onboard memory modules would further extend an iOS device's capabilities. Though the document fails to delve into details, accessory memory would presumably allow an iPhone or iPad to write and read app data. In other cases, a secondary operating system or firmware might be installed to imitate a laptop environment or store laptop-ready versions of iOS apps.

In addition to crunching numbers, a host device might also double as a touch input. For example, an iPhone positioned below the accessory's keyboard can serve as the unit's multitouch touchpad, complete with Force Touch input and haptic feedback. Coincidentally, the surface area of a 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus is very similar to that of the enlarged trackpad on Apple's new MacBook Pro models.




Some embodiments also allow for the accessory to carry an internal GPU, helping a host device power the larger display or facilitate graphics rendering not possible on iPhone or iPad alone.

Since the accessory is technically powered by iOS, its built-in display is touch-capable, an oft-requested feature for Mac. Alternatively, certain embodiments have an iPad serving as the accessory's screen, with keyboard, memory, GPU and other operating guts located in the attached base portion. This latter design resembles a beefed up version of Apple's Smart Case for iPad.

Considering Apple's stance on portable computing, especially recent advertising campaigns touting iPad as a laptop replacement, it is highly unlikely that today's published application will make its way to market. That said, the invention suggests Apple is, or at least was, mulling an expansion of its iOS device lineup to a point that blurs the line between handheld device and laptop.

For now it seems the company is content with marketing two clearly delineated lines -- iOS and Mac -- as evidenced by this week's release of a new iPad model. Starting at $329, the 9.7-inch tablet features an A9 chip, non-laminated screen and only two storage allotments to target budget shoppers and first time buyers.

Apple's accessory laptop patent application was first filed for in September 2016 and credits Brett W. Degner as its inventor.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 70
    Here is an idea: Why doesn't Apple just build touchscreens into their computers?
    SpamSandwichCurtisHightlorin schultzfreethinkingbdkennedy1002ReplaceTheGOPspeculatrix
  • Reply 2 of 70
    adm1adm1 Posts: 808member
    The iPhone docked one I understand, it's a keyboard case AND large screen for viewing content, the iPad one not so much - it's basically a keyboard case which there are plenty of arguably tidier options already, including from apple themselves.

    samsung had a very similar patent in 2015:


    motorola actually released something similar (netbook powered by docked phone) in 2011 which bombed as usual:

    chiarandominternetpersonschlackshaminoslprescottStrangeDaysReplaceTheGOP
  • Reply 3 of 70
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,052member
    Apple will never release a beast as this.  

    Apple is patenting it to prevent other companies from doing it.  

    They realized their phones are/will be so powerful they could be computers and can be used as them.  

    Apple wants to sell you two devices.   They don't want you spending a bit less and getting the most out of your one device.  
    starwarslmagoobrucemc
  • Reply 4 of 70
    grangerfx said:
    Here is an idea: Why doesn't Apple just build touchscreens into their computers?
    Now here's an idea:-  Why doesn't Apple just build 3G/4G/5G modems into their computers?

    I wonder which would be more popular?

    techprod1gybloggerblogSpamSandwichwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 70
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,247member
    Apple should release an iOS based laptop.    An iPad on hinge with keyboard, trackpad and battery in the base.    Two models.    The first would be a 9.7 budget model made with polycarbonate body (using plastics from the 5C) in multiple colors for kids/education.    The second model would be a premium unit with 12.9 screen, trackpad, and keyboard with 360 degree hinge based on the iPad Pro including the Pencil support.    This should weigh 1.9 pounds so that it can be held like iPad.   iOS is the way to go with a laptop because there are over 500 million iOS Users who could use it easily.    iOS just need s better File system support, trackpad (cursor) or mouse support , support for directly connecting printers to the laptop.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 6 of 70
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,290member
    It's the opposite concept I realize but I often wondered if a Mac running macOS could simply run iOS and all its apps seamlessly within a macOS app, kind of like a giant version of the developer testing environment with the additional tweak of making the touch interface 100% mouse and voice driven.
    CurtisHight
  • Reply 7 of 70
    kestralkestral Posts: 196member
    grangerfx said:
    Here is an idea: Why doesn't Apple just build touchscreens into their computers?
    First comment is the best comment.
  • Reply 8 of 70
    foljsfoljs Posts: 277member
    grangerfx said:
    Here is an idea: Why doesn't Apple just build touchscreens into their computers?
    Because they don't really work well for laptop use? It's tiring (and damaging) to hold one's hand to the screen horizontally for any prolonged stretch of time. As for tablet/PC combos (with screens that can be detached), Apple already has the best selling (by far) tablet, and the best selling (by far) laptop models. 

    Didn't work that well for Surface, will lackluster sales and worse profits compared to Mac. Despite early reports to the contrary, the latest "MacBook Pro had already outsold all of its competitors, and had nearly quadrupled the number of sales Microsoft had secured for its closest MacBook Pro competitor, the Surface Book. "
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 70
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,290member
    What's pretty obviously a snag with the plop in design concept is that iPhones vary in size and can change each year.
    techprod1gywatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 70
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,351member
    grangerfx said:
    Here is an idea: Why doesn't Apple just build touchscreens into their computers?
    Because touchscreen laptops are useless in the end. Its something people think is cool and in the end they use it once and don't use it anymore. Who the hell wants to reach across the keyboard and mouse and touch the screen all the time?
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 11 of 70
    This is not a great implementation but I love the concept. I believe there is a place for computer work stations that recognize a users iPhone and then uses the iPhone for the experience custom tailored per user. One could use an improved version of airplay to accomplish this but a tethered version could work also I guess. In situations where a user may need more screen real-estate for apps and such may make some sense. Would take some hours of thinking to fine tune this thought...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 70
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,248member
    I always wondered about the logic of purchasing and then lugging around 2 separate computer systems that do essentially the same functions and the only real difference being screen size?
    ...   Carrying an Apple Watch and an IPhone -- that's ok and it's not what I'm talking about.

    But carrying an IPhone and an IPad and a MacBook are just totally, absolutely redundant. Almost a crazy kind of stupid.  They each are supporting:  systems board, batteries, memory and processors that are each capable of doing what the other formfactor is doing.   The only real difference is screen size and external keyboard & touchpad.  

    So, OK!  Let's Do This!  It's time to leave the 20th century!

    But, there is another, more important reason:  Apple is getting killed by the Chromebook.   Parents, schools and kids simply don't want to shell out $2,000 when $200 gives them what they need.   But, they all carry IPhones.   By plugging them into a light, thin, dumb terminal that supplies a large screen and professional quality keyboard you have everything you need at less than the cost of a Chromebook -- and Apple preserves its youth market.
  • Reply 13 of 70
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,645member
    adm1 said:
    The iPhone docked one I understand, it's a keyboard case AND large screen for viewing content, the iPad one not so much - it's basically a keyboard case which there are plenty of arguably tidier options already, including from apple themselves.

    samsung had a very similar patent in 2015:


    motorola actually released something similar (netbook powered by docked phone) in 2011 which bombed as usual:

    I remember the Motorola thing. Did not know about the Samsung, probably because they never released such a product. Was that a granted patent or just an application? If a granted patent, I wonder how Apple's patent acknowledges the prior art and how it differentiates.
  • Reply 14 of 70
    For Pete's sake it is PHONE. Growing processing power does not mean it could or should be morphing in something else. There are distinct functions. For example pro editor will not use shi#y ammateur applications for iPad or iPhone for work. For that you need large monitor and many tools on screen at the same time as well detail comparisons. Many claim it could. Well if you ever worked in this business you would know, but obviously you navere have.
    I agree with some post here: just add touch screen and modem to regular computer and drop the rest of idea as it is simply dumb (and I do not care who comes up with it on wave of fashion: Apple, Microsoft, Motorola or any other large corporation looking for profit from gizmos)
  • Reply 15 of 70
    adm1 said:
    The iPhone docked one I understand, it's a keyboard case AND large screen for viewing content, the iPad one not so much - it's basically a keyboard case which there are plenty of arguably tidier options already, including from apple themselves.

    samsung had a very similar patent in 2015:



    The Samsung example and the Apple example shows clearly why Apple knows design and Samsung is left wondering how to do something unless they see it first.

    Apple placed the iPhone where the trackpad is supposed to be. Along with haptics it can duplicate, accurately, a trackpad on a MacBook. Samsung puts there's out of reach by the screen, and adds a stupid slide-out trackpad at the bottom.

    Not sure I'd use one, but at least Apple is thinking about usability. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 70
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,000member
    This doesn’t seem very Apple to me. More like the something Samsung would throw at the wall to see if it sticks.
    watto_cobrafreediverx
  • Reply 17 of 70
    It's the iOS version of the PowerBook Duo!  I use my iPad Pro with the Logitech Create keyboard case and it's a great combination.  If Apple could improve on that even with just a built in battery, or better yet augmented hardware, I'd be in.  Admittedly, it makes more sense as an iPhone expansion device.  Apple could make both an iPhone version and an iPad version and then have adapter cases for all the supported devices.
  • Reply 18 of 70
    For Pete's sake it is PHONE. Growing processing power does not mean it could or should be morphing in something else. ThIts going to run both ios and os X.ere are distinct functions. For example pro editor will not use shi#y ammateur applications for iPad or iPhone for work. For that you need large monitor and many tools on screen at the same time as well detail comparisons. Many claim it could. Well if you ever worked in this business you would know, but obviously you navere have.
    I agree with some post here: just add touch screen and modem to regular computer and drop the rest of idea as it is simply dumb (and I do not care who comes up with it on wave of fashion: Apple, Microsoft, Motorola or any other large corporation looking for profit from gizmos)

  • Reply 19 of 70
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,573member
    How much will this headless Macbook cost to consumers?  If it's too low, it will not be profitable enough and possibly steal sales from more profitable macbooks, maybe iPads even.  If it's too high, then most people will think they'll be paying for a device that's useless without an iPhone but with a few dollars more they can have a full-fledged Macbook (on top of their iPhone).  There is no space in Apple's product spectrum to squeeze this device in.

    Also, anybody remember the Asus Padfone that briefly appeared and disappeared like random particles popping in and out of existence in the void?
    edited March 2017 apple2cwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 70
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,717member
    grangerfx said:
    Here is an idea: Why doesn't Apple just build touchscreens into their computers?

    Umm, because they don't want to.

    Do you seriously think Apple hasn't designed, built and tested such a device? Of course they have, probably many, many, many years ago and decided the experience sucked. And in case you haven't noticed, Apple is more inclined to build devices THEY want, not what YOU want.

    This is why Apple makes so much profit. They make a single device that sells 10's of millions, instead of making a million different devices that sell 100's of units. 
    watto_cobra
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