A newly filed patent has teased the possibility that a future Apple MacBook could come with built-in Apple Pencil support for doodling on a touchscreen — and now a set of concept images has shown just what that could look like.
The patent, uncovered this week by Patently Apple, shows a MacBook with a dock tray for an Apple Pencil-like device, blurring the line between the company’s laptop and iPad Pro line. The Apple Pencil would sit above the number keys where the Touch Bar currently resides, and would actually replace the F key functionality when not in use.
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“Uniquely, a high-end lighting system is built-into the retainer and the Apple Pencil wherein the Pencil can replace the top F-Key row with the functional key symbols illuminated on Apple Pencil with full functionality,” the site explains. This is what that looks like in practice:
Diagrams can only take you so far, though, and that’s where designer Sarang Sheth steps in with these mockups for Yanko Design.
Interestingly, Sheth’s take still leaves a little space for the reportedly soon-to-be-axed Touch Bar. Here, it simply provides access to Siri and other apps.
Of course, a patent application is no guarantee that the ideas contained within will ever actually appear in a commercially available product. Apple is notoriously prolific with its patent applications, and filed over 5,000 of them in 2020 alone. Some will eventually be part of a product buyable from your local Apple store, but many others won’t.
It’s impossible to say whether this will be one of the ideas that makes it to production or not, but it’s worth remembering what Steve Jobs said about the idea of touchscreen laptops back in the day:
“We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work,” Jobs said during a 2010 event. “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time, you start to fatigue. After an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off. It doesn’t work. It’s ergonomically terrible. Touch surface want to be horizontal, hence pads.”
Apple is, of course, under new management now. Tim Cook has shown in the past that he’s quite happy to go against Steve Jobs orthodoxy (Jobs was notoriously against the idea of styluses, for a start), and it’s entirely possible he will again.
But for what it’s worth, I agree with Jobs on this one. I own a second-generation Surface Laptop, a device that has a touchscreen and Surface Pen support. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used the touchscreen, and it’s mostly been to demonstrate its presence. While I never bought the Surface Pen, I did try somebody else’s and it’s just impractical: the screen wobbles when pressed, and you have to lean over the keyboard to draw.
Apple might have a way to circumvent these problems in the works, or the patent might just be a way of staking claim to the idea in case somebody else tries it. Either way, it makes for interesting concept art.
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