Gary Marshall goes panning in the river of rumour for nuggets of knowledge
You can’t accuse Tim Cook of inconsistency. In 2012, he pooh-poohed talk of a converged iPad/Mac device by saying that “products are about tradeoffs, and you begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left doesn’t please anyone”. He came back to the subject in November 2015, saying that “we feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad… what we’re worried would happen is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants”. So why is Apple patenting just such a device?
We can discount Cook’s comments about customers, because Apple isn’t fond of focus grouping; Steve Jobs was fond of quoting Henry Ford’s comment that if he’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have asked for a faster horse. But Jobs also dismissed vertically-oriented touchscreens as ergonomic disaster areas, and Cook is probably right that a converged Mac/iPad wouldn’t deliver the best of both worlds.
Apple’s US patent application 9,176,536 was filed in late 2011, but published in November 2015. It describes a wireless display for a hybrid notebook. The display is a touchscreen that connects to the rest of the device with retractable magnetic hinges, and it has a wireless chip to communicate with the keyboard section – a section that, in the patent drawings, looks an awful like the bottom half of a MacBook Pro.
It also looks awfully like Microsoft’s Surface Book, but before you get too excited it’s worth looking at another 2011 patent for a “Telephonic MacBook with Rotatable Display”. That patent outlined a MacBook with a clutch barrel antenna for mobile data and a rotating hinge that enabled the MacBook to work in tablet, laptop or tent mode, just like so many Ultrabooks do. The thing is, Apple didn’t build its Telephonic MacBook – and it didn’t build the similar-sounding MacBook Tablet it patented three years before either. It does look awfully like Apple has tried to make a hybrid that meets its standards again and again, and has concluded, again and again, that it just doesn’t work. That’s not to say that Apple won’t ever make a 2-in-1 iPad/Mac hybrid, but it doesn’t look likely in the short term.
It’s not all bad news on the patent front, however. A second patent published at the same time as the hybrid notebook patent details an “Ultra-Low Travel Keyboard with 3D Touch Functionality”. The new Magic Keyboard has ultra-low travel, but not 3D Touch. Yet.
Our artist’s impression of the 2-in-1 iPad that Apple has filed a US patent application for.