Huh? Your next MacBook could have a removable rear camera

MacBook Air M2 2022
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The best MacBook models you can buy today are excellent laptops, but are also fairly conventional when it comes to their hardware features. But Apple may be looking at something surprising for future MacBook camera loadouts, based on a finding by PatentlyApple (opens in new tab)

That's a German patent titled "Kameraintegration Für Tragbare Elektronische Vorrichtungen (opens in new tab)" (Camera integration for portable electronic devices), filed by four Apple employees in April of this year, and published in the past week. What it shows is a laptop not only with the expected webcam at the top of the display, but a second camera located in the same position on the back of the laptop's lid.

Two patent illustrations showing a laptop with a rear camera module

(Image credit: DPMA)

In one version of the patent's claims, this camera is fixed in place. But the fancier second version of this patent also shows magnetically-attached camera modules that can be swapped in and out. The modules shown include a standard single-lens camera as well as a four-sensor module.

Two patent illustrations showing a laptop with a rear camera module

(Image credit: DPMA)

The patent covers modules with any number or type of sensors in addition to regular cameras, including the LiDAR depth sensors Apple already uses on the iPhone 14 Pro, iPad Pro and older models in those device families. Infrared, light detection and facial recognition sensors are among the others mentioned.

Apple has slowly upgraded the regular webcams on its MacBooks to an up-to-date 1080p sensor, as we've seen on the 14-inch MacBook Pro, 16-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air M2, but a removable back camera would be a completely new addition. 

In a way though, it's similar to the new Continuity Camera feature within macOS Ventura. This uses your iPhone camera rather than a dedicated MacBook module, but it performs the same role of being a removable webcam with multiple lens options. Perhaps this will end up being Apple's way of preparing users for future MacBooks with this newly patented feature.

As is always the case with patents, just because a company claims an idea doesn't mean it's going to become reality. And if Apple is indeed planning to bring these removable cameras to its laptops, don't expect them soon either. 

The next round of Apple laptops we're expecting will be the MacBook Pro with M2 Pro, which now seems set for an early 2023 release. According to the rumors, these won't be changing much about the current 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros beyond refreshing the chipsets.

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.