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Apple takes MacBook Pro seriously with integrated graphics tablet and iPhone charger


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One patent doesn’t prove that Apple makes a device, but a whole bunch suggests that we really do have a MacBook Pro you can charge your iPhone wirelessly, while you sketch with your finger.

Apple files numerous patents every year, and a very large number are awarded. A lot of times it just means that Apple is researching an idea and not that a product will ever come out.

That is still the case with the newly awarded “Device with integrated interface system.” But besides a very seductively attractive MacBook Pro design, this patent has something else.

It has history. It has shape.

This new patent is a sequel, it follows a series of others. In addition to directly citing 152 prior US patents and 66 foreign patents, it specifies that this follows four previous Apple patents of the same name.

Some of them have been spotted before† Each has described Apple making greater use of a MacBook Pro’s palm-rest areas, while some have suggested replacing that entire surface with a glass keyboard.

This new one is more about what Apple could do with this space, and you’ll want one.

“Many electronic devices contain one or more input devices such as keyboards, trackpads, mice or touchscreens to allow a user to interact with the device,” the patent begins. “In some traditional electronic devices, the inclusion of one or more input devices may require the formation of a hole, opening, or seam through which liquid or other foreign matter can enter the device housing.”

“In addition, the housings of some traditional electronic devices may be formed from materials that are easily scratched or have an inferior touch or appearance,” it continues.

So while the descriptions in the patent are mainly about the use of space, such as the wrist rests, it is also about the material from which devices can be made.

†[The proposals] described herein are generally directed to electronic devices having a housing formed at least in part of a transparent dielectric material such as plastic, glass, or a ceramic material,” says Apple. “The transparent dielectric material may be a continuous or seamless input surface that can improve the look and feel of the device without the drawbacks of some traditional device constructions.”

Putting into use

If you can control the entire surface of a MacBook Pro, you can replace the keyboard section if: previously proposedbut then there is so much else to do.

First, there is the suggestion of a built-in iPhone Charger. You could put your iPhone on the MacBook Pro and let it charge automatically.

Detail from the patent showing how to charge your iPhone by placing it on the palm rest

Now that’s a lot easier to imagine that it was in 2018 when the first version of this patent was filed. Now we are used to wireless charging being a common feature, and what’s more, we have MagSafe

So we know that we can be sure that the iPhone is placed correctly over the charger. And we know it’s unlikely to get out of line as you type.

What’s less clear is exactly how we’d continue typing with this slice of iPhone next to our palms. But it’s clear how Apple plans to advance its palm-sensing technology.

“The force sensing system can be configured to determine if a user’s palm is resting on the trackpad area,” the patent says. “In response to the force sensing system determining that the user’s palm is not resting on the trackpad area, the notebook may set the threshold to an initial threshold, and in response to the force sensing system determining that the user’s palm is not resting on the trackpad area rest, the notebook can set the threshold to a second threshold that is different from the first threshold.”

So if you rest your palms on this surface, it registers that and doesn’t respond to any light touch or movement. If your palms don’t rest on it, the surface can shift very well to respond to the slightest movement it detects.

That means the regular palm rest instantly turns into something much more responsive. Like an input device.

In particular, that wide surface could effectively act as a graphics tablet.

†[It] can integrate with multiple sensors, including touch and force sensors, which can detect different types of inputs applied to different parts of an input surface,” says the patent. “In some cases… the integrated interface system can also be used to detect gestures and multi-touch input applied to keycaps of a mechanical keyboard, allowing the keycaps and keyboard area to function as a trackpad.”

That doesn’t sound revolutionary at first, as it seems to replace one trackpad with another. The technology would be different, but in use it would work the same.

Only this doesn’t have to function as a regular trackpad, nor does it have to be in the same position as the current one. If part of the surface can be turned into a trackpad, part of it can be used for drawing.

Detail from the patent showing how to draw lines on the screen even with a displayed keyboard

Detail from the patent showing how to draw lines on the screen even with a displayed keyboard

Going beyond traditional trackpad usage

Apple has even bigger plans.

“For example, a device may contain accelerometers, temperature sensors, position/orientation sensors, biometric sensors (e.g., fingerprint sensors, photoplethysmographs, blood oxygen sensors, blood sugar sensors, and the like),” continues Apple, “[and] eye tracking sensors, retinal scanners, humidity sensors, buttons, switches, lid closing sensors and the like.”

“Such sensors and/or input devices may be located in any suitable part or location within the device,” it reads.

For example, your MacBook Pro can help you monitor your health during your workday.

This patent is attributed to 13 inventors, the vast majority of whom have also worked on the previous versions.

It may still be that none of this makes its way to future Apple devices. But if so, then – patents or not – rest assured that other manufacturers will copy it as they did the PowerBook’s trackball design.

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