Patent shows Apple interest in modular hardware for iPad and iPhone

A patent filed by Apple Inc that was published on Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reveals concept designs for a portable hardware accessory that mimics a laptop but requires an iPhone or iPad to work. The patent details a modular system that uses Apple iOS devices as the CPU core for a type of laptop surrogate.

Indicating a possible hardware synthesis of the Apple Mac, iPhone, and iPad lines, the iPhone touchscreen also functions as a trackpad, and coincidentally the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus is very similar in size to the newer, larger trackpads which feature on Apple’s latest iteration of the MacBook.

Another design which the patent covers is a laptop frame that hosts an iPad where a laptop screen would usually be, resembling Apple’s currently available iPad Smart Case. The casing enclosure for both designs is described as being aluminium, suggesting a continuity with Apple’s long-standing material of choice for device casing.

The introduction of this hardware to Apple’s already impressive product line would see a modular laptop device occupying the same space as the iPad pro, which is already marketed as an intermediary device between the company’s mobile and work-focused products.

Although the interest being shown by Apple in modular designs is intriguing, for such a symbiotic device to work in practice, a far more comprehensive merger between iOS and MacOS platforms wold need to take place. Or perhaps a secondary operating system which imitates a laptop environment or runs store laptop-ready versions of iOS apps could be developed to bridge the devices.

It is also unclear how the separate module components would interact, but possibly a host device could send data and commands to the accessory via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other wireless signals. A lack of processing power may be another concern, but on board memory modules to expand an iOS device’s capabilities would prove a relatively straightforward solution.

The patent application for this modular design was first filed by Apple in September of last year and the patent cites Brett W. Degner as the device inventor.

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