Future MacBooks Look More Likely to Use Your iPhone as a Touchscreen

iPhone-Powered 'Modular MacBook' Envisioned in New Video Credit: Avi Barel
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Apple has maintained a firm stance on keeping its touchscreen devices like iPad separate from its Mac computers (from a functional standpoint). Essentially, this means Apple has no imminent plans of introducing a device like MacBook Pro featuring a traditional touchscreen display (a la Microsoft Surface.)

However, back in 2016, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a breakout Apple patent application covering the concept of “inductive charging between iOS devices and even through to a MacBook Pro,” as illustrated in the patent figures below and explained in greater detail here.

Apple’s original patent essentially describes a redesigned MacBook Pro concept with its traditional Force Touch trackpad being replaced with a ‘docking station’ (through which an iPhone would be able to connect through, communicate with, and interface with the Mac, and vice versa, as shown.)

It’s a far-out concept, to be sure, and though Apple is unlikely to see it through to finished product, the fact it was published in the first place just goes to show the company has at least been exploring the concept of a MacBook with additional touchscreen capabilities behind-closed-doors. 

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Apple’s New Continuation Patent

Interestingly, the USPTO recently published a continuation of Apple’s original patent covering the invention in even further detail, and adding new technical claims in a likely bid to protect the integrity of the concept.

The new claims are broken down below, as reported by Patently Apple.

  • Of particular interest in Apple’s continuation patent is Claim #6, which specifically states that “the portable electronic device […], wherein the display is a touch sensitive display configured to receive inputs for the track pad in response to a determination that the track pad is providing inductive power to the external electronic device.
  • Though purely technical, Claim #6 essentially describes a MacBook Pro with a touch display, noting for example that “when the user is charging an iDevice using the MacBook Pro’s trackpad, where the inductive charging coils happen to reside, that the user could still use their MacBook Pro’s by using the touch display to receive inputs.
  • Claim #4, meanwhile, describes iPhone “[the portable electronic device] wherein the first inductive coil is disposed underneath the track pad and configured to provide inductive power to, or receive inductive power from, the external electronic device through the track pad.”

Subsequent claims describe an additional coil positioned underneath the track pad area where the portable electronic device would be docked, with the coil positioned underneath the top side of the “first region” of the main chassis, and being “configured to provide inductive power to, or receive inductive power from, the external electronic device through the first region.”

Does This Mean a MacBook Pro with Touchscreen Display Is Coming?

Sadly, today’s continuation patent (No. 20180212455) is merely a patent application and therefore does not guarantee the development, release or timing of such a product to market.

Apple’s continuation patent was filed in March 2018 but published by the USPTO last Wednesday. 

It’s certainly worth noting that while Apple may have a firm stance against “merging products,” an increasing amount of evidence has surfaced suggesting the company may be giving the idea second thoughts now.

For example, Apple is slated to introduce iOS 13 next year featuring the finished product of “Project Marzipan”, which is an internal bid by Apple engineers wanting to enable iOS apps to run seamlessly on Mac computers.

Apple also won its first patent covering a Touchscreen iMac concept which is absolutely crazy even though the likelihood of that is even more far-out than what we’re looking at here.

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