The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Thursday published Apple’s patent application for an “Electronic accessory device” acting as a dock that would turn your iPhone or iPad into a touchscreen-enabled Mac notebook, something many people have been craving for. The patent application outlines an ultra-portable MacBook of sorts with a special dock into which an iOS device could be inserted to provide compute power, software, storage and other features.

As with many other Apple patents, there’s no telling when this particular invention might see the light of day, if ever.

Apple proposes a special dock with an embedded GPU, keyboard, ports, a built-in screen and more. Your docked iOS device would lend its CPU, RAM, touchscreen and software. The dock itself would be incapable of functioning without a host device.

Here’s an excerpt from the patent abstract:

The present application describes various embodiments of systems and methods for providing internal components for portable computing devices having a thin profile. More particularly, the present application describes an electronic accessory device available to extend and expand usefulness of a portable computing device.

Your iPhone could be docked in a slot beneath the keyboard.

The handset would double as a trackpad, complete with Force Touch input (via 3D Touch) and haptic feedback (via iPhone’s Taptic Engine). As noted by AppleInsider, the surface area of the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus is “very similar” to that of the enlarged trackpad on Apple’s new MacBook Pro models.

An iPad version of the dock would come without a built-in screen because your docked tablet would become the display with multi-touch input. The patent application does not define whether the dock would run iOS, macOS or a hybrid operating system that could support both touch interactions and pixel precision provided by a trackpad.

Of course, we’ve seen docks that turn smartphones and tablets into laptops before.

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Motorola’s Atrix smartphones, for instance, were one of the first devices to ship with its Webtop platform, allowing them to be placed into the company’s HD Multimedia Dock or Laptop Dock accessories to access an Ubuntu-based desktop.

Apple’s patent application, originally filed for in September 2016, credits engineer Brett W. Degner as its inventor.

Should Apple turn this idea into a real product?

Source: USPTO via AppleInsider

  • AngryDingo

    Duh. That’s been the future for a while.

  • Steve Jobs

    So thin there’s no room for a battery.

  • techfreak23

    The Atrix was ahead of its time for sure. It was also one of the first, if not THE first phone with a fingerprint sensor.

  • GUY

    An onther way the tech leader has become the follower.
    You can thank continuum for this or what ever that thing is called.

  • :D

    But most poeple use a phone case

  • If there’s one thing that I find interesting about this patent it’s that iPhones and MacBooks run two very different types of processor architectures.

    If Apple is really interested in pursuing this direction they would have to ditch Intel and go back to producing their own chipsets again for the laptops. Obviously this isn’t something that is done overnight due to 3rd party software compatibility, but this might be an indication that Apple is considering dropping Intel and exploring the possibilities that might open up with such a move.

    • iByron

      I don’t think it’s intended to be a MacBook replacement. It’s meant to be an iPad Pro replacement. Remember, the iPhone 7 Plus already has a more powerful chip than the iPad Pro.

      • Sorry iByron, I’m not getting Disqus alerts for some reason… While that’s an interesting idea, looking at the patent images it still looks to me like this is a potential laptop replacement.

        The far right image shows an iPad docked into the screen, but more importantly all 3 images show either a trackpad or the phone being used as a trackpad. As we know, iOS doesn’t support a cursor so at the very least this is a new version of iOS with desktop like capabilities, or it’s a full blown iOS MacOS merge. Either way, I think it’s an interesting observation. Especially considering the rumors last year that Apple was exploring the possibility of ditching Intel in favor of their own custom silicon.

        While I can’t imaging this happening any time soon, it’s an interesting piece to keep an eye on.

      • Sorry iByron, I’m not getting Disqus alerts for some reason… While that’s an interesting idea, looking at the patent images it still looks to me like this is a potential laptop replacement.

        The far right image shows an iPad docked into the screen, but more importantly all 3 images show either a trackpad or the phone being used as a trackpad. As we know, iOS doesn’t support a cursor so at the very least this is a new version of iOS with desktop like capabilities, or it’s a full blown iOS MacOS merge. Either way, I think it’s an interesting observation. Especially considering the rumors last year that Apple was exploring the possibility of ditching Intel in favor of their own custom silicon.

        While I can’t imaging this happening any time soon, it’s an interesting piece to keep an eye on.

  • MacServiceGuy

    this is what tim cook meant by “you will see apple do more in the pro space”
    the “more” he was referring to is getting rid of it all together and going with powerless, sissy iphones for you to run photoshop and do video editing.

    • iByron

      If a phone can run desktop Photoshop and do major video editing it’s not exactly “powerless” now is it?

      But, that’s clearly not what it’s for, so the question is moot.

  • iByron

    Regarding: “The patent application does not define whether the dock would run iOS, macOS or a hybrid operating system that could support both touch interactions and pixel precision provided by a trackpad.”

    The patent says “the electronic accessory device is inoperable without the electronic host device being coupled to the control interface…” and “the operational component is solely controlled by the electronic host device [the docked iPhone/iPad].” That suggests to me that the dock doesn’t run any OS at all save for what’s necessary to handle communication between the iDevice and the dock’s components.

    Basically, it seems to be a glorified keyboard dock. Nothing all that new for the iPad, but kind of significant for the iPhone as it provides an increased viewing area in addition to the keyboard and touch interface. Considering that the iPhone 7 Plus’ A10 chip already outperforms the iPad Pro’s A9X, by the time this hits the streets such an accessory with the then current phone could prove a really powerful combo. Especially with the diminishing tablet market. I’d buy one in a flash!