Back in September, 2015, Apple filed a patent for a so-called “Electronic Accessory Device,” which essentially details a portable hardware accessory — boasting several, but not all of, the internal components of a laptop — that would allow it to act a laptop surrogate, for example, when connected to one’s iPhone or iPad.
According to the patent filing, which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Thursday morning, the accessory embodies a device that has been attempted by several manufacturers in the past — such as Motorola, for example, with its Atrix smartphone/lap-dock combo.
To be specific, Apple’s patent covers a “thin” laptop-style accessory, boasting a full touchscreen display, a full-size keyboard, and internal components such as a GPU, SSD storage, or even a large battery pack, that would be able to function like a full-scale laptop when connected to a host device — in this case, an iPhone, or possibly even an iPad, which would act as the notably absent CPU.
Apple’s patent exclusively refers to aluminum as an “ideal enclosure material,” according to AppleInsider, which would suggest that the accessory could embody something along the lines of a very thin MacBook-like device. To that end, as you can see from the patent images, Apple was clearly envisioning a laptop-style device — that would perhaps feature an iPhone-sized terminal in place of a traditional trackpad — capable of essentially mimicking the functionality of a MacBook, albeit limited to the iOS platform.
Alternatively, an iOS-powered device could also be connected to the accessory wirelessly, via Wi-Fi mirroring or Bluetooth — thus foregoing the need for an actual “terminal” embedded within the accessory, itself. While the patent filing is scant on details of how, or in what capacity, the accessory would function, it could theoretically boast its own iOS-based operating system — allowing for the optimization of certain iPhone- or iPad-based apps, and thereby offering a more laptop-like user experience when the host device is connected.
One embodiment even shows the accessory being fully controllable by the iPhone that’s connected to it. For example, when a user’s iPhone is connected to the accessory via a designated port located below the full size keyboard, the iPhone could theoretically act as a form of multi touch-based input for navigating iOS on the larger screen. Such a configuration could also offer Force Touch and a haptic feedback response when navigating iOS on the much larger, touchscreen display.
Keep in mind, of course, that this patent is clearly intended for conceptual purposes only — at least for the time being. In light of Apple’s recent advertising spree to promote iPad as a viable mobile computing device (i.e.: a laptop replacement), the company seems adamant in its stance to sell devices a la carte — meaning iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks — rather that somehow converging the units into a multi-functional device. Still, it’s certainly interesting to see this patent pop up, which means that Cupertino has at least entertained the idea before.
What do you think about Apple’s iPhone-connected laptop-style accessory?
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