Apple is keeping hopes of a touchscreen MacBook alive with an update to a patent that was originally published last year.
As spotted by the patent watchers at Patently Apple (opens in new tab), the update adds new aspects to the claim, largely involving the nuts and bolts of how the Apple Pencil would stay in place via magnetic elements. But the fact that Apple is updating this at all is brilliant news to those who dream of the day the company integrates a touchscreen display into the MacBook.
The patent (opens in new tab) shows a number of ways in which the Apple Pencil could be connected to the MacBook. The first sees it essentially replacing the recently ditched Touchbar and functioning as both a dock and surrogate F keys, with the functionality illuminated onto the Pencil itself, as pictured last time around:
That may sound a bit odd, but the patent lists clever haptic, audio and visual cues that can respond to touch making it feel a bit more like pressing a regular key — or at least knowing the input has registered.
It also seems the Apple Pencil can also offer some scroll wheel functionality, allowing the user to zoom, scroll or adjust sizes. And this may be why it is sometimes pictured docked above the touchpad — a more natural position for surrogate mouse functionality.
The alternative is where the Apple Pencil can be attached to the side of the chassis, either via a similar docking area…
…or seemingly mounted to the side, like how it is on the iPad Pro when not in use.
This feels less practical to me, but may appeal to Apple if the company isn’t considering bundling the Pencil with its products. Leaving an unused gap in a MacBook doesn’t sound very Apple, and it’s worth noting that the company hasn’t ever bundled the Apple Pencil with anything to date.
Could a touchscreen MacBook actually happen?
Obviously this is only a patent, and there’s plenty of those that don’t ever get baked into a commercially available product. But the fact that Apple has updated it suggests this is something in active consideration.
It’s worth reflecting that a touchscreen Mac was something that Steve Jobs seemed firmly against when he was alive. When introducing the iPad, Jobs explained that after “tons of user testing”, touchscreen laptops were “ergonomically terrible.”
But then it’s also worth reflecting that Jobs was also completely set against the stylus (opens in new tab) too, and that didn’t stop the company introducing the Apple Pencil four years after Jobs’ passing. However, that reluctance was in reference to phones and not tablets like the iPad.
And while we’re on the subject of u-turns, Apple once made a virtue of the fact that its iPhones were compact (opens in new tab) while Android rivals were getting bigger and bigger. Now the company looks set to kill off its mini range due to a lack of interest, with two supersize iPhone 14 handsets reportedly due in September.
The point is that when demand is apparent, Apple isn’t afraid of adjusting its philosophies. Whether this will be one such instance of that remains to be seen, but if this patent continuation tells us one thing, it’s that Apple is giving it some serious thought.