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Apple Patent Shows a Mac Built Into a Keyboard

Apple Mac wedge shaped portable
(Image credit: USPTO)

Apple has invented and patented a 1980s home computer, or is it a Raspberry Pi 400 clone? The company submitted a patent to the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) that envisions a powerful portable computer built into a keyboard that you can take while traveling and conveniently plug into a monitor or TV.

The patent drawings show a wedge-shaped Magic Keyboard style compact design, with a single cable for all the duties you might require: display, power, and data. Some images show an accompanying wedge resembling the Magic Trackpad; others show it next to a wireless mouse.

Apple Mac wedge shaped portable

(Image credit: USPTO)

In its patent background section, Apple talks about how desktop computers with good performance levels have traditionally been bulky. Now Apple thinks it can create a powerful and highly portable solution, tapping into latent demand for such devices.

We have recently seen the revival of home computer wedge-shaped systems (i.e., the keyboard is the computer) with the launch of the Raspberry Pi 400. However, Apple is promising levels of computing power one would never expect from such a form factor. In addition, Apple has proliferated its very successful Apple Silicon M1 processors throughout its range of Macs and iDevices, and it naturally sees further opportunities for sales expansion.

The built-in CPU and GPU cores in the Apple M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max already deliver high performance at low power levels. So, Apple Silicon would be an obvious choice if you had to choose a computer architecture to build a cool running new computer in a keyboard form factor.  

The patent is definitely angling at a more powerful M1 or M2 powered device, as it says that the keyboard could be fitted with an active fan, and the keyboard baseplate would be used to wick away heat. However, please note that some portable battery-powered M1 devices in existence are fanless (yet are still admirable performers).

Apple Mac wedge shaped portable

(Image credit: USPTO)

Portable Mac Without a Built-in Pointing Device Is Pointless

In some pictures we see the Magic Keyboard Mac wedge with a Magic Trackpad style accompaniment, in others, there is a mouse. However, there is no getting away from the Mac needing a pointing device, as Apple has obstinately avoided making Macs that are touch screen friendly, for example.

With a device like this, which is being positioned as a portable – in contrast to the diminutive Mac Mini computers which are just small desktops – some way to build in or tie the pointing device to the keyboard seems like a must. Imagine taking this device somewhere and forgetting the mouse or trackpad.

Another weakness could be the Apple philosophy of reducing physical ports to an absolute minimum. Yes, it is neat to just have one port/cable for everything, but it might mean you need dongles for tech bits and pieces you want to connect, and who can have too many USB ports?

Many Patents Don't Precipitate Shipping Products

Many patent applications showing products like the above never bear fruit. Though we have a great fondness for wedge-shaped computers from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras (and the new RasPi 400),  there's no guarantee that Apple will ever bring a device like this to market. We've seen plenty of interesting patent applications from Apple over the years, and only a handful have ended up in shipping products. So while this is an intriguing concept from Apple, don't hold your breath on seeing it in the real world.

Mark Tyson
Mark Tyson

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • Mandark
    This is been done all the way back to the Commodore 64 but I still like it especially for an office environment
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    The fact this was granted a patent strikes me as absurd.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    hotaru.hino said:
    The fact this was granted a patent strikes me as absurd.
    The patent is probably about the single cable providing power, data and display in one.
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    TerryLaze said:
    The patent is probably about the single cable providing power, data and display in one.
    It still strikes my as absurd. And even that "uniqueness" isn't really unique.

    I can take my phone, plug in a USB-C based dongle or dock with PD-in, and boom, power, data, and display in one cable.

    EDIT: If you want to point out the lack of a keyboard, at least in Samsung's Dex, the phone can still act as an "input" device.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    hotaru.hino said:
    I can take my phone, plug in a USB-C based dongle or dock with PD-in, and boom, power, data, and display in one cable.
    Yeah, but if nobody thought to put this into a single cable before then there you go, new patent, it doesn't have to be a groundbreaking idea to be a patent it just has to be something nobody else has done before.
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    TerryLaze said:
    Yeah, but if nobody thought to put this into a single cable before then there you go, new patent, it doesn't have to be a groundbreaking idea to be a patent it just has to be something nobody else has done before.
    The "FTFY" is "just has to be something nobody else has patented before"

    My Galaxy S10+ can do power, display, and data out of a single cable. Assuming this patent is recent, it's been done before.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    TerryLaze said:
    The patent is probably about the single cable providing power, data and display in one.
    Still absurd: USB4/TB3&4 over Type-C does everything-over-a-single-cable already.

    Aggregating stuff is just about as trivial and obvious a thing as I can possibly imagine and trivial obvious stuff isn't supposed to be patentable.
    Reply
  • bolweval
    Add a monitor to the keyboard with a hinge and you've got yourself a laptop! LoLz
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    TerryLaze said:
    it doesn't have to be a groundbreaking idea to be a patent it just has to be something nobody else has done before.
    US patent law also requires the idea be "non-obvious".
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    TJ Hooker said:
    US patent law also requires the idea be "non-obvious".
    I guess the people over there at the patent office don't know what USB-C or Thunderbolt are.
    Reply