The craziest MacBook Pro redesign we've ever heard of just inched closer to becoming a reality. We first caught wind of this possibility back in May, when we learned Apple was applying for a patent to make a touchpad that could be customized and take over the entire width of the keyboard deck.
This isn't the touchscreen MacBook that fans have clamored for, but it certainly feels like the kind of shocking and innovative design that has been needed to shake up the aging MacBook line. And with the wide-open possibilities for Apple Silicon-powered MacBooks, it doesn't sound impossible either.
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Just to be clear, the application for a patent doesn't guarantee a company wants to make said patent a reality in the future. Often times, companies have been found to apply for patents just to block rivals from adopting the same technology.
According to Patently Apple, a site that tracks Apple's quests to win patents, Apple applied for this patent back in March 2019 for an illuminated and "Expandable Virtual Trackpad." The site does not link to the awarded patent, but notes that this surface would be a "Virtual or Dynamic Trackpad with regions that could extend to the MacBook's sidewalls."
The post goes on to note that this area would be "illuminated by an array of light-emitting elements (or a single light-emitting element) to create a configurable or customizable boundary of the active input area," which would basically highlight the space you can touch, so you don't forget.
The customization options seem pretty interesting, as the patent supposedly allows for the touchpad to be "moved, resized, rearranged," and "functionally reassigned." That way, if I'm working with something else on my keyboard deck, I could move the touchpad to the side, giving myself more space.
Why this makes sense for Apple
With the news of iOS apps coming to the Mac in the era of Apple Silicon, this sounds less implausible than it could have months ago. You'd want to customize the touchpad to be a vertical space to match the iPhone's layout, right? I know I would.
Another reason why this sounds very much like an Apple thing to do is that rearranging the touchpad is a big accessibility feature, so users with difficulty using their hands and arms can make touch input easier and more personal.
We're keeping our eyes on Apple's plans for how it will shake up the MacBook going forward, as Apple Silicon allows it to dramatically rethink the sizes of its hardware.