Apple is still considering ways to make the iPhone and iPad work more closely with MacBooks, including a system where an iOS device is inserted into a MacBook shell as a display or as a replacement trackpad with a screen.
Granted on Tuesday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the simply-named "Electronic accessory device" patent suggests how an iPhone, iPad, or other device could be augmented into a MacBook-like device. Effectively a peripheral, the shell would require an iOS device to be inserted in order to function, effectively extending the smartphone or tablet's usability into the realm of notebooks.
AppleInsider previously reported on the initial application for this specific patent, which was filed with the USPTO on September 20, 2016.
The shell is intended to appear similar to a MacBook, complete with keyboard and aluminum enclosure, but with sections missing in order to accommodate a mobile device. For an iPhone, the trackpad area would be hollowed out for the device to be inserted, while the iPad version would eliminate the display, with the iPad itself becoming the "notebook" screen.
While the shell would have most of the hardware required to work as a notebook, including an extra GPU to drive the display, ports, and other internals alongside its external appearance, it would not be functional unless a host device was installed. The cavity sections would include connectors to provide power to the host device, most likely through an extra battery in the shell or by pass-through charging, as well as for it to communicate with the other components.
Not only would it act as a host, the iPhone or iPad would also work as a touch interface in its own right, with the iPhone behaving like a trackpad and the iPad becoming a MacBook's touchscreen.
Apple applies for many patents on a weekly basis, and its publication by the USPTO is not a guarantee that concepts described in filings will turn up in consumer devices.
So far, Apple has not moved down the road of combining its iOS and MacBook lines in this way, and there is no sign this being changed anytime soon. It is likely the company is keen on keeping the product lines separate, while those wishing to turn an iPad or iPad Pro into a notebook already have many keyboard accessories and cases on the market that can provide similar functionality, such as Apple's own Smart Keyboard lines.
Apple is not the only one to have investigated using a smartphone in conjunction with a notebook. At CES 2018, game peripherals producer Razer showed off Project Linda, a concept notebook that had a space for a Razer-branded Android smartphone to be inserted in the trackpad area, with the mobile device also acting as a host for the entire setup.