Apple Designed an iPhone-Powered Laptop

Apple has filed a patent application for what could create a dramatically different kind of computing experience.

Apple's dock would use the iPhone as a touchpad. Credit: USPTO

(Image credit: Apple's dock would use the iPhone as a touchpad. Credit: USPTO)

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday (Mar. 23) published an Apple patent filing describing a method by which you would place an iPhone into a MacBook chassis and power the computing device with an iPhone. The smartphone would be strategically placed in about the same spot as a touchpad would on a regular Mac.

Could Apple be planning such a move for the iPhone 8?

The patent application, which was earlier discovered by AppleInsider, is called, simply, "Electronic accessory device." It says that the chassis would come with traditional computing parts, including a screen, keyboard, and GPU. But in order for it to actually be powered, you'd need to insert the iPhone into it and start working on the device as if it were a computer.

MORE: iPhone 8 Camera Will Be All About AR, and Glasses Are Next

The patent application is notable, given the rise of 2-in-1 hybrids that can act both as tablets and notebooks, effectively blurring the line between tablets and PCs. But no company has successfully married the phone and laptop yet. HP's Elite X3 is the most recent example, which connects to a laptop-like dock using Windows 10 Mobile's Continuum feature.

Previous attempts to combine phone and laptop have included the ill-fated Palm Foleo and the Motorola Atrix Laptop Dock.

Samsung doesn't look to be going the mobile route with its Galaxy S8, but it's expected to offer an optional desktop dock called DeX that could power 4K monitors, as well as a mouse and keyboard.

Apple has conspicuously shied away from this kind of convergence and has said on numerous occasions that it believes there is -- and should be -- a clear distinction between mobile experiences and computing experiences.

The latest patent application, however, suggests Apple is at least thinking about ways to bridge that gap. Specifically, the patent application calls for a way for data to be transferred between the devices. Additionally, the host device could have its own operating system installed, allowing you to simply use the iPhone's processor for power and access alternative software that would be running on the device.

But it goes further. In a striking move, Apple's patent describes a touchscreen for the host device -- a feature we've yet to see in an Apple computer and something the company's executives say, doesn't work in the computing space. Another embodiment in the device sees an iPad acting as its screen.

It's not clear whether a device like this will ever make its way to store shelves. Like other big companies, Apple files for patents on a slew of technologies, and many of them are never released. But an iPhone-powered laptop is definitely an intriguing idea.

Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.