Your Future Mac Could Be Your Keyboard, and Vice Versa

Apple has recently patented a completely new type of Mac computer, with a familiar flavor. The tech giant seems to be exploring enclosing a future Mac computer entirely within the confines of its Magic Keyboard.

An Old Idea With a Sleeker Spin

The newly-published patent is very reminiscent of a product the Raspberry Pi Foundation released almost two years ago. The Raspberry Pi 400 is, in essence, a keyboard that also contains all of the components of a desktop computer. Just plug it into a display and a mouse, and you’re good to go.

raspberry pi 400
The Raspberry Pi 400, released in November 2020, includes all the components of a desktop computer inside the keyboard housing.

This is precisely what Cupertino appears to be considering for a future Mac, but in a much sleeker aesthetic. The patent is titled “computer in an input device”. The entire all-in-one computer consists of its components, including the Mac’s System-on-a-Chip (SoC), memory, storage, and so forth, encapsulated within a device like a Magic Keyboard.

figure showing your future mac could be your keyboard
A drawing from the patent application, with the desktop computer components housed underneath the keyboard (see arrow).

The input device would have an input/output (I/O) port that would allow you to connect it to any external display. Apple could configure this port, according to the patent application, “to receive data and power and configured to output data from the processing unit”. Thunderbolt 4, for example, is perfect for such use. It offers power delivery, video output, and data transfer across a single port.

Apple acknowledges the function of the patent is a computer that can be used as a keyboard, but notes the technology could apply to other input devices. Picture, if you will, a trackpad, touchpad, mouse, or tablet that’s also a fully-functional desktop computer.

Will Your Next Mac Be Your Keyboard?

Apple files for patents on a continuous basis, sometimes several each week. It’s not at all unusual for the company to patent some technology and then never do anything with it. However, Apple Silicon offers new frontiers for mobile computing. Apple is certainly to capitalize on it somehow.

figure showing your future mac could be your keyboard with display and mouse
Drawing depicting a potential future Mac housed entirely within the keyboard enclosure.

In fact, it’s safe to say that the evolution of Apple Silicon makes Cupertino more capable of creating such a small, sleek, elegant all-in-one computer than it ever could have been using Intel’s processors. Since all we have to go on so far is a patent, though, I wouldn’t expect to see such a future Mac until 2025, at the earliest.

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JBSlough

Two things. This easily could replace a Mac Mini, at least at the low end. The second, could be the basis of a foldable iPad?

geoduck

1) I have no idea how Apple could ever get a patent on this. There’s like dozens of computers that have tried the All In The Keyboard design going back to the Commodore 64 and possibly beyond.
2) It is a breathtakingly stupid idea. A friend had his one month old Commodore 64 destroyed when his kid accidentally spilled a Coke into it. Computers must be safe and dry. Keyboards must be cheap and replaceable. This is a Toaster-Fridge if ever there was one.

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

@geoduck: Let me push you on that. Rather than see this as a literal, mechanical-style keyboard, think of it as an input device – a configurable piece of glass, with or without depressions where one’s fingers might alight, with some sort of backing. Apple already have such a piece of glass with a backing that has an IP67 rating (submersible in 1 metre of water for 30 minutes), called the iPhone 13. Surely they could make an even hardier device that is intended to serve primarily as an input device.  Indeed, this might even be the oft-rumoured ‘foldable phone’ that… Read more »