Back to the 80s: Apple integrated the host into the keyboard

Apple is exploring the possibility of integrating a full-featured Mac inside a keyboard reminiscent of the home computers of the 1980s, such as the Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office disclosed the concept in a new Apple patent application titled Computer in an Input Device, which describes a thicker Magic Keyboard-style case that integrates all the components of a high-performance computer inside it.

The patent describes the premise of such a device, which could be plugged into a single external display via a single I/O port designed to receive data and power, and wirelessly paired with a trackpad or mouse for additional input.

Although portable computing devices, such as laptops and tablets, can be docked at an office or home office station that includes a secondary display to provide a computing experience similar to the desktop computing experience, these devices still require an additional set of input devices to mimic desktop computing devices. In addition, the primary display of devices such as laptops and tablets may often not be used when the device docks to a station that includes a secondary display, adding potentially unnecessary size and cost to such portable computing devices.

The computing devices described herein may incorporate or otherwise house one or more computing components within an input device to provide a portable desktop computing experience in any location having one or more computer displays. For example, instead of carrying an entire laptop or tower and keyboard, a user may transport a keyboard that houses the computer. Since some form of input device typically requires interaction or docking with a computing device, including computing components within the housing or enclosure of the input device can eliminate the need for redundant sets of input devices and reduce the number of components that need to be transported by the user. In addition, the input device can reduce cost and size by eliminating additional components, such as displays, that are not needed when used with a standalone computer monitor.

By incorporating computing components into the keyboard, Apple believes this allows users to carry a single device that provides a desktop computing experience anywhere there is one or more external displays.

In some embodiments, the device includes a touchpad coupled to the enclosure, while in others, the device is foldable and the keyboard area includes an accessory display showing graphics, or the keyboard itself is virtually displayed by a projector inside the enclosure.

The remainder of the patent explores in detail the configuration of the various internal computer components within the space provided by the keyboard enclosure.

Apple has patented keyboards in the past, including the use of touchscreen panels similar to touch strips that extend across the entire keyboard layout, but this is the first patent to suggest the actual incorporation of a computer into the keyboard itself.

As with any patent filed, this technology is unlikely to appear in any products anytime soon, if ever, but it does provide an interesting look at how Apple is thinking about the Mac design that may eventually replace or be offered with the Mac mini, which allows users to bring their own monitor, keyboard and mouse.