The next MacBook Pro could have a sophisticated retractable keyboard to dramatically slim down Apple's laptop design. And after years of the same tired and bulky look, it's about time for a shakeup.
This idea was discovered by Patently Apple in the form of a newly granted patent, applied for by Apple in August 2019, simply titled Retractable Keyboards. The point of this patent was to explore a way to make MacBooks thinner without reducing the size of the keys, which would be a welcome change to laptops assuming it doesn't impede its basic functions.
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Within the pages of the patent, we see Apple is pitching a whole moving keyboard, where the keys sink into the body of the laptop as the lid is closed, and raise up again when you open it up, driven by a magnetic structure that's physically attached to the hinge.
The last time Apple had a bright idea on the keyboard front we ended up with the unpopular Butterfly Keyboard, which was widely panned and eventually replaced with the Magic Keyboard on the larger 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019, and on the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air earlier this year.
The good news is that the patent shows keyboard designs with both traditional scissor mechanisms and butterfly mechanisms. Apple certainly wouldn't be first to this idea, as Lenovo had a ThinkPad Yoga in 2013 whose keys retracted when you put that 2-in-1 in tablet mode.
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A perfect storm for a big MacBook redesign
This keyboard patent isn't the only way Apple is looking to reinvent the MacBook Pro. At its WWDC 2020 conference this week, Apple announced the introduction of Apple Silicon to its Macs. Apple Silicon is to be a new range of processors, using ARM architecture instead of Intel.
These new Apple chips promise to deliver a better balance of performance and power usage, and could enable Apple to deliver thinner and lighter designs. Apple has said its first Apple Silicon-powered Mac is coming this year, but it's not clear whether it will be a laptop, desktop or all-in-one PC like the rumored iMac 2020.
If Apple were able to leverage its own silicon and a retractable keyboard in the same MacBook, it could be the thinnest MacBook yet and a much better rival to sleek Windows laptops like the class-leading Dell XPS 13.