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Forward-looking: Apple has patented a new style of keyboard for the iPad that works in conjunction with macOS-style software to turn it into a laptop. It has a more natural look than the kickstand used by most existing iPad keyboards, and significantly deeper software integration as well.
If that sounds familiar, then you're probably thinking of Microsoft Surface devices. Microsoft markets the Surface Pro as a more capable version of the iPad Pro in their awkward but funny ads. iPad proponents say that Apple's device is better at what it does, even if it's slightly less versatile.
A new iPad based on this patent would reverse that paradigm. It would have a genuinely clamshell form factor. Apple's existing Magic Keyboard is more of a folding case and keyboard hybrid than a pure keyboard attachment.
This keyboard attachment is drawn connecting to the base of the iPad, much like the Surface Pro's keyboard. It has "electromechanical" keys and the large trackpad that MacBooks are famous for. It could also, Apple's patent says, have a slot for a stylus or a small touchscreen display similar to a Touch Bar.
As it stands, you can already get iPad keyboards with those features sans the Touch Bar from third-party manufacturers like Logitech. Combined with iPad OS, the iPad is already a capable substitute for a laptop. This patent seems more like Apple's spin on an existing idea than a redesign of the iPad, but it might also be a stepping stone to other upgrades.
Apple's patent emphasizes the MacOS-like interface paired with the keyboard, even though that software is likely outside the scope of this patent. Apple hasn't committed to going in this direction, but they've been heading towards a more traditional desktop since iPadOS, which launched two years ago and will soon enter its fourth iteration.
Meanwhile, other Apple patents show the iPad going in bolder directions. A versatile connection port designed for a keyboard accessory could also be used for other first-party or third-party accessories, like cameras or microphones, or even, as one patent describes, a secondary screen.
It's cool to see Apple experimenting with new ideas for the iPad, but this wouldn't be the first time that Apple has patented something awesome and exciting only to get stuck on the drawing board. So this product might not come to exist, but it would be cool if it did.
Masthead credit: Maury Page