'A Mac, a tablet, and a mobile device'

Freshly published Apple patent ignites a very iPad vision for the future of the Mac.

Apple, iOS macOS, Touch Bar, iPad, MacBook Pro
Ed Uthman via Flickr

Can anyone remember when Apple's Steve Jobs announced the iPhone by its three main functions, "An iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator"? A freshly disclosed patent application hints the company he founded may have a similar vision for future Apple notebooks.

'A Mac, a tablet, and a mobile device'

The latest Apple patent worth talking about describes a solution that uses one sheet of glass as a dynamic keyboard and another as the screen of the device.

One way to think about this is as if the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar just replaced the keyboard on your Mac. Another is to see it as the next generation in smart iPad keyboards.

"The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted the tech giant a patent titled 'dual display equipment with enhanced visibility and suppressed reflections,'" Apple Insider reported, citing Patently Apple.

This isn't the first patent describing such a solution.

The patent describes use of technologies to reduce reflections between the two screens (one OLED, the other an LCD). It describes two iterations of this product design, one with the two sheets connected by hinges and another in which the two elements are not permanently connected — you can remove the OLED screen to use it separately.

Is this the Smart Keyboard 2?

iPad Pro users already work with Apple's Smart Keyboard. This lightweight keyboard provides a mechanical keypad for use with iPads, but users have complained that they find the keys uncomfortable to use.

Another problem is that with a solution as versatile as iOS, a fixed character keyboard isn't always the most relevant user interface.

The commands you use on a keyboard when working in Microsoft Word may be very different from those you need in Pixelmator; a game of Splitter Critters requires one set of commands, while intensive editing work using Logic Remote demands different tools.

The advantage of iOS is that you can run all of these using touch, yet the fixed "old-style" keyboard interface requires a fundamentally different experience/world view. While you can use different keyboard commands for different application-specific tasks, the limitations tax finger memory for some users.

It seems possible the latest keyboard patent seeks to navigate that challenge, describing (as it does) a keyboard that can change in response to the app you are in.

It's good for developers, too, as they can introduce unique user interfaces once they become liberated from the QWERTY UI dictatorship.

Xerox Park is history

A recent Bloomberg story told us Apple hopes to make some iOS 12 apps work on Macs in a move that should also see Mac apps working on iOS devices.

This will (we're told) make it "possible for a single third-party app to work on iPhones, iPads and Mac computers."

We also continue to hear on and off rumors claiming Apple wants to put its own processors inside Macs. (The year began with claims of Apple placing co-processors inside future Macs.)

Apple sees that a vibrant developer ecosystem means software designers must have access to powerful Macs on which to build new experiences, particularly in augmented reality (AR).

That's why iMac has gone Pro and why the Mac Pro will be such a big deal when it ships, perhaps in October.

The hard truth is that in a mobile device age, the consumer computing market will continue its collapse and the PC industry will become focused around state-of-the-art, high-end machines ("trucks").

Apple already recognizes that its most popular products — iPhone, iPad and MacBook iterations — are mobile.

Apple's plans to bring its software platforms together mix well with the patented two-screen vision for mobile computing. A Mac, a tablet, and a mobile device. Computers for the rest of us.

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