Future MacBook Pro could split at the hinge and be truly modular

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited October 2023

Apple is continuing to research how to split up the keyboard, screen, trackpad, and more of a MacBook Pro so that you can mix and match whatever components you need, whenever you need it.

Detail from the patent application
Detail from the patent application



Apple does hear criticism. Ten years ago, Phil Schiller responded to criticisms of the Mac Pro by muttering on stage, "Can't innovate anymore, my ass."

It's possible he regrets that, given the failure of that Mac Pro model. But if Apple is now only muttering in-house, it's probably saying something about how users of the new 2023 Mac Pro are complaining about it not being modular.

"We'll give you modular," Schiller might even now be saying in the Apple Park canteen.

For a newly-revealed patent application shows that shows that Apple is looking to go so much further than just allowing a few expansion cards into a Mac Pro. Instead, it wants to let you pick the modules you want to build up the Mac you need.

Apple applies for hundreds of patents every year and none of them are guaranteed to result in shipping products. However, in this case Apple appears to be particularly serious about modular Macs.

For this new patent application comes after a previous one, that was actually granted earlier in 2023. There are no obvious differences between the old granted one and the new application, bar text formatting and layout.

However this new patent application does explicitly say it claims priority over the previous one.

In both cases, Apple is specifically talking about external expansion rather than, say, the addition of internal expansion cards. These modules it refers to are not any internal expansion, they are the keyboard, the trackpad, the display, the hinges between all of these -- and even a stand to put that display on, if you want to.

"Modularized Computing And Input Devices," has illustrations that look like exploded versions of the MacBook Pro. The text of the patent is just a little more dry.

"An example computing device can include a base or body defining an input surface and an internal volume," it says. "The computing device can include a plurality of sensors disposed within the internal volume."

"The computing device can include a hinge including a retaining portion and a pivot member," it continues. "The retaining portion can include first and second walls defining a channel.. [and the] pivot member can rotatably attach to the base and can be positioned between the retaining portion and the base."

This all about the mechanics of a self-assembly MacBook Pro, and the patent specifies that it can have "a display removably attached to the hinge," and a "keyboard removably attached," and a power supply, "a projector to project a desired image onto the input surface," and so on.

It doesn't look as if Apple expects these elements to be snapped together and then left as one unit, either. "The base can include one or more magnets to align the keyboard or the second display on the input surface," says the patent.

Items could magnetically clip together or onto a stand
Items could magnetically clip together or onto a stand



"The base can form a raised portion that acts as a datum to align the keyboard or the second display on the input surface," continues Apple. "The power supply can include an inductive charging coil."

So you can prop up the display firmly, but since it's magnetic, you can then pull the screen off again later. That's if you use a screen at all -- remember, "the computing device can include a projector to project a desired image onto the input surface or elsewhere."

This isn't just being done to shut up people who want modularity. It's being done because, as the patent points out, so many of us end up using different devices instead of adapting one to our needs.

"Traditionally, computing devices can include tablet computing devices, laptop computing devices, and desktop computing devices," says Apple.

The patent then outlines how, for instance, laptops "generally assume a clamshell configuration," while a tablet is a touch screen, and desktop computers "generally include a distinct display, a keyboard, and a tower."

"While each of these types of computing devices effectively provide a quality user experience in particular environments," continues Apple, "it can be desirable to be able to reconfigure these devices to operate effectively in a broad spectrum of applications in various environments."

"Thus, with traditional computing devices, users may need to rely on multiple distinct computing devices to sufficiently meet their varied needs," says that patent.

You could mix and match modules like screens
You could mix and match modules like screens



Apple's idea, then, is that you sit at your desk until lunchtime, then just tear the screen off and go reading this "tablet" over a coffee. Or that if you're going travelling, maybe you can just bring the screen and the keyboard, or at least a more portable combination than your entire desktop computer.

It all sounds reminiscent of Microsoft's Surface, or other devices that double up as tablets and laptops. But it also has some roots in proposals to dock iPhones within a MacBook -- or even back to the 1990s and the PowerBook Duo.

From 1992 to 1997, the PowerBook Duo was a lightweight and slimline laptop -- for the time -- that could be docked within a desktop Mac. You would work at a seemingly regular desktop Mac, then at the push of a button, the innards would be ejected in the form of a PowerBook Duo you could take away.

This patent is credited to five inventors, including the prolific Paul X. Wang. His very many previous patents for Apple include one about making modular options for what we now know as Apple Vision Pro.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    So, this is essentially an iPad Pro on steroids.
    apple4thewinravnorodomFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 2 of 18
    So, this is essentially an iPad Pro on steroids.
    That’s what I was thinking 
    Laroche1982
  • Reply 3 of 18
    Imagine you have the power of an iPad in the screen. Power of a macbook when connected to the keyboard
    ravnorodom
  • Reply 4 of 18
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,855moderator
    If ever the disclaimer about Apple patenting a lot of things it never brings to market were applicable, this is the time.  
    Ofermichelb76FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 5 of 18
    Imagine you have the power of an iPad in the screen. Power of a macbook when connected to the keyboard
    iPads are already running the same chips as MacBooks. The only power limitation comes from cooling and battery size. Hell, the new iPhone Pro will have 8Gb of RAM and start with 256GB of storage, the same as my M1 MacBook but have a faster processor!
    apple4thewinmacikeFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 6 of 18
    LOL. Apple Laptops of old used to do this FOR FREE. Cost a fortune to replace back then.

    What goes around comes around it seems.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 18
    Imagine you have the power of an iPad in the screen. Power of a macbook when connected to the keyboard
    iPads are already running the same chips as MacBooks. The only power limitation comes from cooling and battery size. Hell, the new iPhone Pro will have 8Gb of RAM and start with 256GB of storage, the same as my M1 MacBook but have a faster processor!
    If only they allowed desktop mode on iPhones when docked like Samsung phones currently do. Of course Apple will do it better.
    muthuk_vanalingamcanukstorm
  • Reply 8 of 18
    9secondkox29secondkox2 Posts: 2,765member
    So… Apple is copying the Microsoft Surface line? 

    No thanks. 

    Would be a decent iPad accessory though. 
    darkvader
  • Reply 9 of 18
    Imagine you have the power of an iPad in the screen. Power of a macbook when connected to the keyboard
    iPads are already running the same chips as MacBooks. The only power limitation comes from cooling and battery size. Hell, the new iPhone Pro will have 8Gb of RAM and start with 256GB of storage, the same as my M1 MacBook but have a faster processor!
    If only they allowed desktop mode on iPhones when docked like Samsung phones currently do. Of course Apple will do it better.
    I think this is inevitable. Apple may be reluctant to enable this feature in next 2-3 years. But they will be forced to make it available after 5+ years once this feature is viable performance-wise in Android mid-range phones.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    thttht Posts: 5,494member
    So… Apple is copying the Microsoft Surface line? 

    No thanks. 

    Would be a decent iPad accessory though. 
    This is a variation of the iPad hinge accessory patent they had about decade ago. In that patent, two iPads could be connected together, or a keyboard accessory, and whatnot. They also have a patent on a removable laptop display from about 15 years ago too, where the idea was to be able to remove the display of a laptop and continue using it as a tablet.

    It's the usual "patent every idea possible" strategy, no matter infeasible it may be. It's the way the game is played given the rules or policies on awarding patents. The policy for awarding patents should be really changed to having an actual working product before a patent is awarded. Pipe dream as there is too much money in the current system.
    dewmewilliamlondondarkvadergatorguyFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 11 of 18
    ravnorodomravnorodom Posts: 699member
    So when you disconnect from the keyboard, it becomes iPad Pro. When connected, it's full blown MacBook Pro. Nice.
  • Reply 12 of 18
    If you have the screen, keyboard and trackpad that you like, just buy the base to upgrade the processor, ram and storage. This is far more than just a Microsoft Surface which is not a modular computer. They should have a magnetic divot in the top of the modular screen for a modular camera upgrade or maybe even face ID capabilities. Undock your keyboard which becomes a wireless keyboard with a day of battery life. Dock the computer portion on your desk which adds an M5 Ultra processor to the mix. Everything charges via wireless charging pads on your desk and your 32" 4K desktop monitors automatically connect via wireless HDMI. Release a wireless time machine dock running on wifi 8 that sits off in a corner where you can insert one or more modular hard drives with simple RAID setup if needed. If they can keep it all slim and slick like the Apple way, I can see this working very well.
  • Reply 13 of 18
    mayflymayfly Posts: 385member
    Solution in search of a problem. If I want a touchscreen, I'll use my iPad. And the only time I ever use it is on vacation, when I don't want to bring the MacBook Air. I think touchscreens are one of the most disgusting pieces of technology ever invented. Ever look at any of your touchscreens after even one day of use? Including the one on your car? Covered with grease, oil, flakes of dead skin…my 2013 Volvo S60 is the last one without one, and I'm keeping it until the wheels fall off.
    darkvaderFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 14 of 18
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,717member
    So, this is essentially an iPad Pro on steroids.
    It's essentially an iPad running macOS.
    FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 15 of 18
    While I have an iPad I use it not very much since I am working exclusively on my Mac.
    I have no need for a touch screen on a Mac (and really like to threaten people who dare to touch the screen)...
    mayflywilliamlondondarkvader
  • Reply 16 of 18
    9secondkox29secondkox2 Posts: 2,765member
    The MacBook Pro will never be like this. The notebook form factor is the perfect computer. 

    Splitting it up simply makes it weaker in performance. 

    Why on earth would apple add the crazy expense of putting a Mac in the keyboard and another Mac in the screen?… no one wants to pay for that when they can buy an iPad for tablet duty. 

    Apple makes the perfect notebook computer and they make the perfect tablet. 

    A combination would mean a lesser tablet and a lesser computer. 

    I’ve a feeling this is an iPad Pro related patent. Not a notebook one. 
    darkvader
  • Reply 17 of 18
    darkvaderdarkvader Posts: 1,146member
    So when you disconnect from the keyboard, it becomes iPad Pro. When connected, it's full blown MacBook Pro. Nice.
    Disconnect the screen and lose 90% of your software?  What's nice about that?
    williamlondon
  • Reply 18 of 18
    darkvaderdarkvader Posts: 1,146member
    mayfly said:
    Solution in search of a problem. If I want a touchscreen, I'll use my iPad. And the only time I ever use it is on vacation, when I don't want to bring the MacBook Air. I think touchscreens are one of the most disgusting pieces of technology ever invented. Ever look at any of your touchscreens after even one day of use? Including the one on your car? Covered with grease, oil, flakes of dead skin…my 2013 Volvo S60 is the last one without one, and I'm keeping it until the wheels fall off.
    My car (along with my phone) is where a touchscreen really makes sense.  I don't want to have to fiddle with a keyboard or trackpad (or trackball) when I'm driving (and I've done computers in the car long enough that I've done exactly that before, trust me, it's really annoying).  Touchscreens are MUCH better.

    As far as I'm concerned, the iPad is a toy.  I'm not a graphic artist, so the screen with a pencil thing isn't useful for me.  I can't type on one.

    I can't imagine going on vacation without a computer or three.  And that's been true since the '80s when as a teenager I'd insist that the //e had to go along.  It's easier now, just toss a couple laptop bags in the car.
    williamlondon
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