A laptop-sized touchpad? Alright then…
Since it was first introduced, the MacBook Pro series has seen numerous redesigns, but recent patent applications made by the tech behemoth may show where the favoured workplace laptop is headed in the future.
This most recent round of patents, according to Apple Insider(opens in new tab), includes ideas for a MacBook Pro that you can use to wirelessly charge your iPhone as well as an inventive “extended touchbar” that wraps around either side of the keyboard.
Older patents are also mentioned, in which Apple contemplates changing the entire surface of a MacBook to be used as both an extra touch-control function and to avoid the accumulation of dust and debris. This would allow users to virtually control the entire surface.
“The concepts discussed herein are generally oriented at electronic devices having an enclosure constructed at least partially from a transparent, dielectric material such as plastic, glass, or a ceramic material,” adds Apple. “The transparent dielectric material may produce a continuous or seamless input surface that may enhance the device’s appearance and feel while avoiding some of the disadvantages of other classic device architectures,” says the researcher.
One of the suggested uses for this technology is the incorporation of a built-in wireless charging pad, as demonstrated in a given mockup from the authorised patent. This isn’t a world different from MagSafe charging, so it’s not a big jump to imagine this may genuinely make its way into gadgets over the next years.
Apple also outlined plans to enhance its palm detection technology in the patent application, stating that “The force sensing system may be designed to discern if a user’s palm is resting on the trackpad region,” indicating that it may be difficult to text on the keyboard without a phone nearby.
It also states that in some cases, the integrated interface system may be used to detect gestures and multi-touch inputs applied to keycaps of a mechanical keyboard, allowing the keycaps and keyboard region to function as a trackpad. This technology could then be modified into a graphics tablet-style surface that enables users to use the entire palm rest and even the keyboard to control their cursor entirely by touch.
This does raise some concerns about the actual utility of such a sizable workspace; after all, graphic designers and other professionals who frequently used a display or drawing tablet would still be better off using a more specialised piece of hardware, and this feature may be too “out there” for most regular MacBook Pro users to take advantage of.
Analysis: Just because something is approved doesn’t mean it will actually happen
The problem is that although Apple submits a lot of patent applications each year, very few of them really result in the designs and concepts they contain being used in actual products. It was claimed by 9to5Mac back in 2019 that Apple had received approval for over 2,000 patents the year prior, but it’s safe to assume that we didn’t see 2,000 ground-breaking features implemented across the product portfolio.
Apple does this because it wants to explore new technological frontiers and a patent application will safeguard its intellectual property if it believes the feature would be useful. You may disagree, but the fruit-themed brand is far from the only large company to have this practice.
Apple has a mixed record when it comes to laptop improvements. The contentious Touchbar was either adored or despised by MacBook Pro consumers, and the company’s choice to eliminate connectors like the HDMI and SD card reader was so divisive that it was reinstated on the 2021 M1-silicon-powered versions.
Although the built-in phone charger is intriguing, it’s likely that we won’t ever see one on a manufacturing line. Fortunately, there are a tonne of incredible wireless phone chargers on the market, so we don’t need Apple to introduce one into its ecosystem. However, for those who are set on the notion, cross your fingers — it might be in our favourite Mac goods in the years to come.