(Photo: USPTO)A recent patent filing by Apple suggests the company is working on some kind of full-blown Mac computer that could be tucked inside one of its Magic keyboards. The design could allow a person to simply unplug the keyboard from an external display, stuff it in their rucksack, and be on their way as opposed to hauling a notebook around. The patent filing is unambiguously titled, “Computer in an input device.”
The lengthy patent filing, which was unearthed by Macrumors, is quite clear. It states: “The computing devices described herein can incorporate or otherwise house one or more computing components within an input device to provide a portable desktop computing experience at any location having one or more computer monitors. For example, a user can transport a keyboard that houses a computer, as opposed to carrying an entire laptop or a tower and keyboard.” This all makes sense of course, but who the heck is carrying a tower PC between locations?
It’s possible this device couldn’t be built while Apple was stuck on Intel silicon but that the company is evaluating new form factors now that it has the M1 in-market. The MacBook Air doesn’t even include a fan, and as long as it’s not being used to encode video or do heavy rendering work, the CPU mostly stays cool all the time. That said, Apple does mention a cooling mechanism that could be included in the device. To enable passive ventilation, the keyboard would include a pathway for air to enter, flow through, and exit again.
Apple isn’t sure passive ventilation would be enough to keep the system cool, however. The patent adds that Apple might need to include “one or more more air-moving apparatuses” inside the chassis to help the air move along the intended pathway. Additionally, Apple describes a design with a “thermally conductive” base material, with the CPU in “thermal communication” with it, so as to allow the base to absorb its heat and radiate it by spreading it across a larger area. Apple lists “non-limiting thermally conductive” materials as copper, bronze, steel, aluminum, and brass. As we all know, Apple already uses aluminum in its wireless keyboards, so the nuts and bolts of the design are already somewhat in place. We also really hope Apple makes a bronze keyboard.
This filing by Apple reminds us of a similar device Asus attempted to bring to market about a decade ago when its EeePC branded netbooks were all the rage. You can take a look at it here via Cnet, but the device ultimately failed due to being overpriced at $500 and underpowered. Like other netbooks of the era it had a weak Atom CPU, 1GB of system memory, and 16GB or 32GB of storage. It’s amazing we liked those device so much. (I hated netbooks – Ed).
Apple would not be limited to such low-end specs in 2022 and such a system could plausibly offer similar to performance to an M1-powered MacBook Air. Though those devices are limited to a maximum of 16GB of memory, that’s more than enough for users who mostly use a web browser and an office suite to get work done. It would also jive with the company’s reported focus on its Mac desktops for 2022, as it’s rumored to be bringing four new models to market this year. Finally, it should be noted Apple patents all kinds of things that may never see the light of day, such as an all-glass Mac tower, so take this filing with a grain of salt.