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In a nutshell: A newly published patent authored by senior Apple engineers describes a "keyboard that houses a computer." It could replace laptops for users that exclusively use them docked either at work or at home, and it would benefit from being simpler and possibly more powerful.
Regardless of what it's called, this keyboard could be revolutionary if it ever materializes. It would undoubtedly steal some market share from MacBooks and desktop Macs and change our notion of portable computing.
On the one hand, this is a laptop without a screen. Plug it into a monitor, and it's the same as using a MacBook plugged into a dock but without the hassle. Minus a battery, it might even be lighter than a laptop. On the other hand, it's also a desktop system hidden inside a keyboard. It's just a desktop that uses less space, involves fewer cables, and is easier to move.
In either comparison, the keyboard is the simpler device, and simplicity could make it more affordable. And, compared to a laptop, it would have a more comfortable typing experience and more room for cooling and hence more performance.
For cooling, Apple envisions both active and passive solutions. The patent describes the former as a fan-fed multi-chamber cooling loop (pictured above). The intake and exhaust would be on the back and point away from the user. A passively cooled keyboard would have a thermally conductive base that acts as a heatsink connected directly to the processor. It would dispel the heat into the table like a hot plate might.
Apple gets a bit creative towards the end of the patent. It opens up possibilities of a trackpad built into the keyboard and a design that folds the keyboard into the form factor of a sandwich (above).
If this keyboard appears in any form at all, though, it certainly won't be for a while.
Masthead credit: Amy Hirschi