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Here's how Apple could turn the iPad into a 2-in-1 laptop

iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch) review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Henry T. Casey)

If you find it hard choosing between a MacBook and an iPad, Apple could be gearing up to change that dilemma. That's because the latest patent Apple has been granted by the USPTO (via Patently Apple (opens in new tab)) that show how a iPad-like tablet could be connected to an external keyboard accessory that looks more like a laptop deck than the Magic Keyboard

Bearing a typically dry patent title of "Hinged keyboard accessory having multiple installation modes for a tablet computing device (opens in new tab)," this device is, put simply, an iPad but with a macOS-style interface rather than the familiar iOS and a keyboard accessory you can plug it into. But there's more to in that just that. 

An amended illustration of an Apple patent, showing a tablet being inserted into a keyboard accessory two ways

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

For one, the patent mentions the device would feature support for multiple input devices, including a stylus. In fact, there's a stylus slot shown in the keyboard hinge in the illustrations, which would be an improvement on the current magnetic attachment system for the Apple Pencil assuming it could also charge in there.

So far that sounds a lot like a Microsoft Surface Pro 8, or its predecessors that have been doing this kind of thing for years already. But Apple's patent goes a step further, showing the tablet being inserted both facing the keyboard and facing away from it. It's a little like how the best 2-in-1 laptops operate except you have to remove and re-insert the tablet part of the computer rather than bending it around with a 360-degree hinge.

An amended illustration of an Apple patent, showing a tablet being inserted into a keyboard, as well as multiple features for the hinge like a display or stylus slot.

(Image credit: Patently Apple)

Aside from the stylus slot, one side of the hinge is also shown with an accessory connector that can be used to add a camera, projector, light or microphone. If that wasn't enough already, the hinge could even have a display built into it to show details like the user's name, remaining battery and today's date or act as the macOS top menu bar if you plug in the display the right way.

This follows on from previous Apple patents that offer fresh ideas for how to package and use Macs. One from last year suggests swapping out a MacBook's physical keyboard for a second display showing a virtual one. Another shows an idea for cramming a Mac mini into a keyboard like an old-fashioned home computer.

Of course, we have to accept these are patents. The primary purpose of these is to lay claim to ideas before starting work on building them, if at all. So while we'd love to see an iPad Pro offer a true MacBook-like experience, it could be years before it comes, if at all.

Back in reality, we do have some iPad and Mac stuff to look forward to in the near future. We're expecting Apple to offer up an iPad Pro 2022 at some point this year, as well as a new MacBook Air, Mac mini and maybe an iMac Pro too. Either way, we're hoping to hear more about Apple's new iOS 16, macOS 13 and other software at WWDC 2022 in June, and also more about the rumored Apple M2 chip we expect to feature in the upcoming generations of Mac.

Richard Priday
Staff Writer

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.