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Apple wins patent to basically make a Surface Book

Apple Patent 2022 Hinged Device
Apple Patent 2022 Hinged Device (Image credit: Patently Apple)

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad Pro

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Apple recently won a patent for a hinged keyboard iPad accessory.
  • The design, while semi-unique, results in a hybrid tablet-laptop computer.
  • Despite criticizing hybrid computing devices in 2012, Apple seems poised to continue to emulate 2-in-1 PCs like Surface Pro and Surface Book

The running joke in tech media is something doesn't exist until Apple invents it (after everyone else has been doing it for years).

Whether digital pens, NFC, face recognition, or hybrid computing devices, Apple sits on the sidelines until it thinks it can do it all better. (My favorite Apple excuse was in 2012 when Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller said Qi-wireless charging is "more complicated" because it still must be plugged in.)

But to be fair, Apple often does master the execution of specific technology, which, when married with its software, results in a satisfying experience.

Now, in a new patent awarded to Apple, the company seems poised to continue its march toward a Surface Pro-like (or even Surface Book) device. (Despite its clever design, Microsoft discontinued Surface Book in 2021 in favor of the superior Surface Laptop Studio). According to Patently Apple, who broke the story, the design is focused on a hinge "that provides multiple installation modes that could deliver superior flexibility for users."

Diving into the Apple patent, the hinge lets an iPad-like device couple to a keyboard accessory by slotting into a magnetic element that holds the device in place (along with some physical support). The iPad could also be reversed with the display backside out so that when the device is folded closed, the whole contraption works like a thicker tablet, possibly boosting battery life.

The "magnetic element" could also support the Apple Pencil and a connection interface for accessories such as a camera, projector, microphone, or light.

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Dropping the accessory tie-in bit and the connector concept doesn't look radically different from what budget-PC maker Chuwi released in 2017 with the $400 Hi13.

Of course, the more significant point to all of this is the observation that Apple is walking back its famous quote in 2012 from its CEO, Tim Cook, who made a snarky comment about converged Windows 8 PCs, noting:

"…anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that products are about tradeoffs, and you begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left doesn't please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not gonna be pleasing to the user."

Source: Hijinks Ensue/Joel Watson (2012) (Image credit: Source: Hijinks Ensue/Joel Watson (2012))

While there is some truth to Cook's comments (Windows 11's tablet experience is still behind Apple's iPad OS), it is also accurate that Microsoft's vision of convertible PCs was not some gimmick. Instead, 2-in-1 PCs were a genuinely transformational design that had a massive influence over mobile computing in the last decade. I even argued that Surface Pro was one of the most important PCs of the last decade.

Source: Patently Apple (Image credit: Source: Patently Apple)

Indeed, Apple has been slowly transforming its iPad Pro into a Surface Pro for years, starting in 2015 with its Smart Keyboard Cover and Pencil, and most recently with its hinged 2020 Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. Going one step further with a keyboard deck and hinged mechanism seems evident at this point.

Perhaps more interestingly, the new Apple patent shows a macOS-like OS on the iPad-like device. Apple has been rumored, for years now, to be converging macOS and iPadOS, although nothing concrete has yet come forth except macOS supporting iOS apps announced in 2019. Whether Apple goes down that route remains to be seen, but it certainly seems feasible.

Unsurprisingly, Apple also has another patent that lets users connect two iPads to form a dual-screen tablet not too dissimilar from Microsoft's 2019 (but never released) Surface Neo. And Bloomberg columnist Mark Gurman noted just a few months ago that Apple is also developing a 20-inch iPad-MacBook hybrid device with a foldable screen slated for 2026 (right after it invents the foldable phone in 2025).

Of course, we've already had one PC with a foldable display, and a few more are coming this year with 16 to 17-inch displays, including one from ASUS. That can only mean that Apple users will dismiss the idea right until 2026 rolls around and suddenly they think differently.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

44 Comments
  • "According to the Apple patent, the hinge lets an iPad-like device couple to a keyboard accessory by slotting into a magnetic element that holds the device in place (along with some physical support). " *Cue Marques Brownlee poking at the touchscreen to demonstrate how annoyingly wobbly it is.* I just love the irony here. This is, like, almost every single cheap 2-in-1 from 2014. I will give Apple credit for front-facing phone cameras, though. IIRC that one they did actually invent. Extremely useful.
  • I'm pretty sure my Nokia E71 had a front facing camera and that predates the first iPhone with a camera. I still look back on that phone with fondness, by far the best combination of practicality, size and quality. I rarely use a front camera so don't think it's a great feature on any phone.
  • Alot of phones before iPhone already sported front facing camera. Apparently due to iPhone, smartphones after that started shipping without one and only re-emerge after iPhone 4.
  • Huh, I see. Sounds more like a productivity gimmick than anything though - especially without wireless broadband. I can see why they may have declined.
  • That time, the use case was pretty limited due to 3G is still emerging in many countries in the world. For those who have one, 3G Video Calling is expensive and you need contacts with 3G enabled phones with front-facing camera to be useful, which not all phones do but flagships will or more high-mid-range phones. I think Skype maybe did support it on Symbian, but never got a chance to use it that time. Maybe Windows Mobile devices can. Nokia N70 which when I was still at Southeast Asia were popular flagship around 2005-2006, years before first iPhone and already got front facing camera. This is why I'm surprised and disappointed when first iPhone came out, it didn't even have front facing camera which was already a thing before. I think Japan already taking advantage of this in some form, but due to for them pretty much one of the first fully adopted 3G early on. Mobile internet is already a thing in East Asia region. This is also before Wifi on phones even became common thing. I felt like there is indeed quite a different landscape in mobile devices between US, Europe and Asian markets. Though many Asian markets will be closer to European due to popularity of Sony Erricsons and Nokia. Japan were pretty much has its own market and well developed compared to the rest.
  • The first iphone had many limitations (such as lack of copy and paste, didn't even 3g, nor did have 3rd party apps at launch, with a standard fixed wallpaper to name a few - you also mentioned another - no ffc) so was not that transformational as people believe it to be. But, as usual Apple is the pentulent, spoilt child of marketing, all they had to was make compelling ads to sucker in the masses. To be fair, once the first iphone was jailbroken it was a phenomenal device. But, out of the gate?
    Not so great.
  • This is just a patent. It doesn't have to mean literary anything. Still after all those years hybrid tablet-laptop devices proved to be a small niche and I don't see that Apple can change that, so Tim Cook was and will be right regarding that irrelevant whether Apple releases the device or not. There is simply too much trade-off, sweet spot for tablet is 10" or less and sweet spot for laptops is 14" or more. A hybrid device will always be either a very poor laptop or very poor tablet. Or even both of that. Now some people may really need to carry both devices and they might be ready for this trade-off but that is a niche and will always be that.
  • "This is just a patent. It doesn't have to mean literary anything." Man, you sound butt-hurt. "Still after all those years hybrid tablet-laptop devices proved to be a small niche" Oh really? How small exactly?
  • Given the fact that you have to actively hunt on the website of any manufacturer other than Microsoft for a detachable 2-in-1 I would say EXTREMELY niche.
  • Dell, Lenovo, Samsung all have 2in1 front and centre. Hardly niche.
  • Great, except I said detachable. Lenovo offers a Chromebook, HP in Australia has 39 2-in-1's on their site, none of them are detachable, the US site has two, and one is a Chromebook. Dell website won't load for me at the moment. Detachable laptops ARE niche outside of Surface and even that is bringing in more and more lines that aren't detachable as well. Regardless of anything else they are still a niche product, I should know because it's my favourite form factor and they are still a ***** and a half to find outside of Microsoft, and they are basically selling a Windows Tablet (keyboard is separate, it's a tablet) for the price of a Windows Laptop (although with Thunderbolt now I'll probably end up going back to Surface from HP, simply because it's my only choice).
  • "Great, except I said detachable." Calvinball.
  • Well, no. Because I'm specifically interested in detachable 2-in-1's. A convertible laptop is a very different device to a tablet PC with a detachable keyboard. I stated in my very first post what I was referring to, it's the responses that choose to move the goalposts around to suit your arguments. So maybe your comment should be aimed inward.
  • One very quick look at Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Asus and they all had 2-in-1's on their front page for their laptop sections.
  • Had a look at the other two manufacturers you recommended, Asus has one detachable 2-in-1 which is the Vivoslate OLED 13". That being said I didn't know this tablet existed and it's really enticing because my workload requires a horizontal workspace, so the aspect ratio on this thing is awesome, so this could be my next PC. For some bizarre reason the Samsung website in Australia doesn't have laptops advertised at all on their main page, but typing in laptop in search brings up the Galaxy Book 2 and the Galaxy Book S so again, one detachable. If all the companies are only offering one or two options as a best case scenario and not even in all markets, it's niche.
  • Depends I suppose on how you're defining a "detachable 2-in-1." Almost every tablet has an attachable keyboard, if not from the manufacturer than from 3rd party manufacturers. And those are very popular.
  • Tablets are not marketed as 2-in-1 devices so they aren't included in my definition of the term.
  • I have both PCs and Macs so I don't see why my butt would hurt. But I would guess that you have that problem as a loyal fan of company whose vision of future turned out to be a niche product. If you combine the units of tablets and laptops and hybrid devices, detachable hybrids are less than 1% of those units. I know that it will deepen your butt pain, but if you insist it is a very small niche.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  • Imitation is the cheapest form of R&D.
  • And arguably the smartest, if your market position is luxury. These Apple people are really smart.
  • Yup. Let others do the hard work of figuring out what adds value for consumers.
  • Then just refine in the background, swoop in, make a tonne of money whilst taking all the credit. After all most folks only remember the last thing they've seen or heard.... most folks wouldn't have heard of Zilog (damned Exxon Mobil) founded by Federico Faggin, Ralph Ungermann, Masatoshi Shima or MOS Technology (damn you Jack Tramiel and your calculator obsession...), Chuck Peddle without who Apple wouldn't have lasted let alone survived until Microsoft bailed them out. These folks as well Chuck's team at MOS are the true pioneers of the microprocessor.
  • Hey, somebody else remembers the real story of microcomputers!
    Makes two of us.
    To everybody else talk of the SOL, CROMEMCO, S100, MS basic on paper tape (or the Gates letter) or even Atari 400 are meaningless noises. I still miss the CHAOS MANOR columns.
  • Its hard to believe today, but in 1986 Radio Shack had the largest installed base of Unix computers in the world. Ah yes, Computing At Chaos Manor. Jerry Pournelle had some of the most intricate computer problems I have ever seen. “I need to print this document, but it is on this DOS computer where the attached printer is broken. The other printer is downstairs, but it is attached to this CP/M computer. The 2 computers of course have different disk formats, so it is not an easy job to transfer the file. I can’t just swap printers because one is parallel port and the other is serial port, and besides I don’t have the correct printer drivers on both computers.” And on and on. The articles were always interesting, but I don’t miss those days at all. Everything is so much easier now with all printers and all phones/iPads/laptops connected wirelessly.
  • Poor Apple fans, with all these 180 degree turns they must not know what to like nowadays.
  • And everyone will praise Apple for being so innovative, urgh.
  • Apple will seriously explain they aren't copying detachable keyboards, but rather inventing *attachable* keyboards. Entirely different, right? 😇
  • Well, it's all a matter of antics (semantics) right?
  • It's a matter of resource allocations: ads vs R&D.
    Big lie theory isn't just for politics.
  • Apple is running out of ideas. Now they'll take a current device and make some adjustments. I recall Apple suing everyone for any patent infringement, now they are doing the same.
  • But they have a patent you see...
  • Now, now.
    You can't run out of what you never had.
  • "Apple has been rumored, for years now, to be converging macOS and iPadOS, although nothing concrete has yet come forth except macOS supporting iOS" Hmmmm does that mean that iPadOS won't have touchscreens either????
  • Why did MS kill the Surfacebook? Best computer I ever owned.... The Laptop studio, looks bad, and does not work as a tablet....
  • "Why did MS kill the Surfacebook? "
    Simple: Data/telemetry showed people rarely detached the tablet/display to use it as intended. Combined with the compromised thermals of putting the CPU/RAM/SSD behind the thin display, it just didn't warrant continued development. Laptop Studio delivers the same tablet/drawing experience but with much more powerful hardware due to it being in the base like a normal laptop. It also offers up a new posture where you bring the screen forward over the keyboard, which is quite useful.
  • Except that I used to reverse the screen so I could watch movies on a plane. I had a Lenovo Yoga before it and when you folded the screen over the keyboard was facedown which I didn't like. The Surface Book also worked well as a laptop and the keyboard section held a large battery. It was a good design but it needed to be marketed better and people needed to work with it.
  • "people rarely detached the tablet/display to use it as intended."
    Well that is what happens with you take a decade to develop a touch centric OS and ecosystem but that OS/ecosystem continues to be a dumpster. "Combined with the compromised thermals of putting the CPU/RAM/SSD behind the thin display"
    Looks like Apple iPad can do all that and still get lauded for better performance / battery life
  • Dan,
    Nicely said.
  • Now all we need is for Microsoft to win a patent to make an actual tablet.
  • Can they have patent for something which is already released in market?
  • Patents aren't for products or features, but for *specific* methods or processes.
    It as common to see multiple patents for different ways to do the same thing.
    The variation is supposed to be significant and non-obvious but patent office examiners aren't the sharpest crayons in the box and they don't seem to have any advanced way (say, AI based) way of comparing a new submission against the millions of previous ones. So it is common to see bad patents issued.
    It is often up to the other patent holders and the legal system to police patent abuse.
  • There is a hidden agreement between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs that Microsoft will invent and release prototypes of products that Apple will release 5 years after and just call it revolutionary. This is just a continuation of that agreement :)
  • Apple still has Billy boy's sex tape in a vault.