Apple doubling down on bendable designs for MacBook, MacBook Pro

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Future MacBook or MacBook Pro models may adopt a unibody design with a seamless bendable hinge mechanism to allow Apple to build them out of a single piece of material.

It could open up like a regular MacBook Pro, but this potential future design would include a bendable hinge
It could open up like a regular MacBook Pro, but this potential future design would include a bendable hinge


Following many Apple patent applications for bendable, and even rollable, screens for the iPhone and iPad, the company is also examining how a MacBook Pro could benefit from being able to bend. Rather than the current complex hinge mechanism connecting the screen to the body of the computer, Apple is investigating a more flexible device.

"Planar hinge assembly," US Patent No 10,642,318, chiefly describes how such a design could apply to a MacBook Pro-style device.

"A personal computing device comprises a single piece body having a seamless overall appearance and that includes a bendable portion that is capable of having a smoothly curved shape," it says.

"The single piece body includes a first part capable of carrying a display suitable for presenting visual content, and a second part that is capable of carrying an input device suitable for accepting an input action."

Apple is careful to always describe "a personal computing device," and its details can also apply to "a smart phone cover or a tablet computer device." But it all hinges, so to speak, on what's referred to as "a multi-state bending assembly."

The idea is that the MacBook Pro, or other device, can be made in a single plane, and that this "single piece body" has a "bendable portion." The bendable part still has to house the same electronics that currently connect a screen to a keyboard, it has to remain "in mechanical communication."

Apple's solution is to have the "adjustable bending structure" be formed from "a stack of layers that can transition from an uncompressed state to a compressed state."

Most of the detail goes into how these layers can be compressed or uncompressed, plus how each is "capable of bending in unison in response to a force applied." There's actually surprisingly little about the specific advantages of having a bend instead of a regular hinge.

There is the issue that a current MacBook Pro hinge is a complex design, but it is by now extremely well tested. A bendable hinge could be simpler, though, and so could be more reliable.

Detail from the patent showing how a bend could be achieved using multiple layers
Detail from the patent showing how a bend could be achieved using multiple layers


However, there is also an issue of what else could bend alongside this hinge. "For example, the flexible consumer product can include [a] flexible display that overlays and is supported by [the] adjustable bending structure," says the patent.

This is similar to a previous Apple plan for a device which rather than a regular screen and keyboard, instead presents two screens -- with one able to display an input device. That design included a regular hinge, but this bendable one also refers to how one portion "can be used to present visual content whereas a second portion can be used to emulate an input device."

Where such a display could overlay a bendable hinge, Apple also suggests that such "an adjustable bending structure can also include a flexible battery." This, too, is similar to a previous design, this time for a foldable iPhone or iPad battery.

The patent is credited to Alex J. Lehmann, and Paul X. Wang. Both have previously been listed as inventors on patents including "Computer Systems With Finger Devices," and "Touch-based input device with haptic feedback." Wang is also credited on a related "Housing Structures and Input-Output Devices For Electronic Devices."
indiekiduk
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 28
    indiekidukindiekiduk Posts: 357member
    I wonder how many times can it bend...
    MplsPrazorpitdysamoriaGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 2 of 28
    macapfelmacapfel Posts: 551member
    Makes sense. The new MagicKeyboard for the iPad already has a bendable back.
    urahara
  • Reply 3 of 28
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,835member
    I wonder how many times can it bend...

    Forever. 

    I have a bendable ruler that operates on this principle. It’s over 20 years old. This is a very clever idea. 
    uraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 28
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,939member
    cornchip said:
    I wonder how many times can it bend...

    Forever. 

    I have a bendable ruler that operates on this principle. It’s over 20 years old. This is a very clever idea. 
    It depends on the material used and the degree to which it bends. Spring steel can bend a fair amount and many times, aluminum much less so. All materials eventually develop stress fractures with enough loading and bending.

    I’m curious about how they plan to make it - steel is better than aluminum, but is much heavier and rusts. Steel alloys are expensive and heavy. They also need to make the hinge flexible and body rigid enough to avoid breaking the screen and other components. Any such construction would undoubtedly be significantly more expensive, too.
    razorpitdysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 28
    jmgregory1jmgregory1 Posts: 469member
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer.  You would always have a gap at the hinge.  Just from an aesthetic point of view, the look that it creates isn’t good, and it of course presents issues with objects that could make their way into the opening and damage the screen, keyboard or trackpad.

    I understand that companies have to keep innovating, even if things like this will never see the light of day, but I bugs me that they would even put something like this out there in the first place.
    dysamoriaHank2.0
  • Reply 6 of 28
    fred1fred1 Posts: 748member
    Still don’t see the need.  Why not two sections that have a minimal seam between that most cases won’t even be noticeable?
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 7 of 28
    tommy65tommy65 Posts: 56member
    Back bending and downward facing dog pose Mac. I practice this everyday day would be nice if my MAC would join me in my daily routine.
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 28
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 913member
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer.  You would always have a gap at the hinge.  Just from an aesthetic point of view, the look that it creates isn’t good, and it of course presents issues with objects that could make their way into the opening and damage the screen, keyboard or trackpad.

    I understand that companies have to keep innovating, even if things like this will never see the light of day, but I bugs me that they would even put something like this out there in the first place.
    If by "put something like this out there," you're referring to filing for a patent, the answer is obvious. A company like Apple is looking at all sorts of design features, only a small percentage of which ever make it to a final product line. If they don't patent every promising concept under consideration, it'll be too late by the time it's shown to be worthy of inclusion in a product. 
    randominternetpersondysamoriawatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 28
    jmgregory1jmgregory1 Posts: 469member
    AppleZulu said:
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer.  You would always have a gap at the hinge.  Just from an aesthetic point of view, the look that it creates isn’t good, and it of course presents issues with objects that could make their way into the opening and damage the screen, keyboard or trackpad.

    I understand that companies have to keep innovating, even if things like this will never see the light of day, but I bugs me that they would even put something like this out there in the first place.
    If by "put something like this out there," you're referring to filing for a patent, the answer is obvious. A company like Apple is looking at all sorts of design features, only a small percentage of which ever make it to a final product line. If they don't patent every promising concept under consideration, it'll be too late by the time it's shown to be worthy of inclusion in a product. 
    My point is how is this design even something they would want to patent?  So what if some competitor copies this multi-layer design?  It is such a compromised design, it will only cause issues (if it’s even possible to make an actual production sample using the design) for anyone using it.
    dysamoria
  • Reply 10 of 28
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer.  You would always have a gap at the hinge.  Just from an aesthetic point of view, the look that it creates isn’t good, and it of course presents issues with objects that could make their way into the opening and damage the screen, keyboard or trackpad.

    I understand that companies have to keep innovating, even if things like this will never see the light of day, but I bugs me that they would even put something like this out there in the first place.
    Really?  It would be impossible for Apple to close or cover the gap?  One could argue that a gap would solve the "problem" of oils on the keyboard transferring to the screen.

    I'm skeptical that this will see the light of day any time soon, but to criticize Apple for researching alternatives is silly.  And for Apple not to apply for patents for their inventions would be irresponsible.
    watto_cobraneo-tech
  • Reply 10 of 28
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,835member
    MplsP said:
    cornchip said:
    I wonder how many times can it bend...

    Forever. 

    I have a bendable ruler that operates on this principle. It’s over 20 years old. This is a very clever idea. 
    It depends on the material used and the degree to which it bends. Spring steel can bend a fair amount and many times, aluminum much less so. All materials eventually develop stress fractures with enough loading and bending.

    I’m curious about how they plan to make it - steel is better than aluminum, but is much heavier and rusts. Steel alloys are expensive and heavy. They also need to make the hinge flexible and body rigid enough to avoid breaking the screen and other components. Any such construction would undoubtedly be significantly more expensive, too.

    I’m not exactly sure the material in my ruler, but for this application I’d guess it would be spring steel. Very, very thin gauge. This concept doesn’t rely on the strength of the material, but on pressure. The number of layers in the provided drawing is likely exaggerated. The layers would be not much thicker than a sheet of printer paper and would be compressed together with some kind of lubricant and sealed. These things last a long time.
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobrafastasleep
  • Reply 12 of 28
    crowleycrowley Posts: 7,633member
    Weird use of "doubling down".  They had one patent, now they have two, and that's supposed to represent something significant?  They still have no products that (intentionally) bend.
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 13 of 28
    cornchip said:
    I wonder how many times can it bend...

    Forever. 

    I have a bendable ruler that operates on this principle. It’s over 20 years old. This is a very clever idea. 
    Can you post a picture or a link? I'm very curious.
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 28
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 913member
    AppleZulu said:
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer.  You would always have a gap at the hinge.  Just from an aesthetic point of view, the look that it creates isn’t good, and it of course presents issues with objects that could make their way into the opening and damage the screen, keyboard or trackpad.

    I understand that companies have to keep innovating, even if things like this will never see the light of day, but I bugs me that they would even put something like this out there in the first place.
    If by "put something like this out there," you're referring to filing for a patent, the answer is obvious. A company like Apple is looking at all sorts of design features, only a small percentage of which ever make it to a final product line. If they don't patent every promising concept under consideration, it'll be too late by the time it's shown to be worthy of inclusion in a product. 
    My point is how is this design even something they would want to patent?  So what if some competitor copies this multi-layer design?  It is such a compromised design, it will only cause issues (if it’s even possible to make an actual production sample using the design) for anyone using it.
    I could of course be wrong, but I'm going to go out on a limb to suggest that the R&D people at Apple are probably better positioned than folks out in the peanut gallery to decide whether a particular thing is worth obtaining a patent. Included in that assessment is no doubt the relatively low cost for a company with in-house patent attorneys to file a patent application, taken against the assuredly zero consideration taken as to whether a given application will offend the sensibilities of someone posting comments on AppleInsider. So there's that.
    macxpressrandominternetpersonwatto_cobrajdb8167
  • Reply 15 of 28
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 3,205member
    Yet more talk of foldable materials/devices that can’t actually be reasonably folded. Dear industry: please stop wasting time and money on this weird obsession.
  • Reply 16 of 28
    Hank2.0Hank2.0 Posts: 106member
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer...
    I agree. The question is not does it bend but how far can it bend? Is this really needed? I smell a red herring 🤨
    GeorgeBMacdysamoria
  • Reply 17 of 28
    OferOfer Posts: 89unconfirmed, member
    I’d still like to see Apple make a touchscreen device (like an iPad) that could then be docked and perform like a full computer (so a merging of an iPad and a MacBook Pro).
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 28
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,138member
    This is as bad of a design as Microsoft’s curved flexi-hinge laptop, because there is no way for the screen to fold flat against the base of the computer.  You would always have a gap at the hinge.  Just from an aesthetic point of view, the look that it creates isn’t good, and it of course presents issues with objects that could make their way into the opening and damage the screen, keyboard or trackpad.

    I understand that companies have to keep innovating, even if things like this will never see the light of day, but I bugs me that they would even put something like this out there in the first place.
    I think its silly to knock something before you see the finished product...
    randominternetpersoncornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 28
    KITAKITA Posts: 352member
    Ofer said:
    I’d still like to see Apple make a touchscreen device (like an iPad) that could then be docked and perform like a full computer (so a merging of an iPad and a MacBook Pro).
    So essentially an Apple made Surface Book?
    Ofer
  • Reply 20 of 28
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 913member
    Ofer said:
    I’d still like to see Apple make a touchscreen device (like an iPad) that could then be docked and perform like a full computer (so a merging of an iPad and a MacBook Pro).
    They've been pretty adamant they're not going to do that.
    watto_cobra
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