Laptop to smartphone: I feel like an empty shell without you

Laptop to smartphone: I feel like an empty shell without you
Credit: United States Patent Application 20170083048

(Tech Xplore)—In patent news, what are all these Apple-centric headers about this week? Something about turning an iPhone and iPad into a laptop? A phone-powered modular MacBook? A superdock?

The application in the spotlight is simply titled "Electronic Accessory Device" and was published March 23 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was first filed back in September last year and the inventor is listed as Brett Degner.

Patent talk for the uninitiated is difficult to understand, so translations from Apple watchers in English that breathed some life into diagrams and descriptions in the patent were highly appreciated.

The patent's abstract stated that "The present application describes various embodiments of systems and methods for providing internal components for portable computing devices having a thin profile. More particularly, the present application describes an electronic accessory available to extend and expand usefulness of a portable computing device."

One interpretation: Imagine you have your keyboard and screen unit but your iPhone is doing all the work.

Over to AppleInsider: "An Apple patent application published Thursday details a so-called 'thin' portable hardware accessory that boasts the components necessary to act as a laptop surrogate for iPhones and iPads."

Mikey Campbell further discussed what he thought this was all about.

"Specifically, the IP covers a 'thin' accessory, a kind of 'headless' device that contains traditional laptop hardware like a large display, physical keyboard, GPU, ports and more, but is incapable of functioning without a host. In this case, an iPhone or iPad would slot into the laptop-esque piece of kit to fill the role of CPU."

Laptop to smartphone: I feel like an empty shell without you
Credit: United States Patent Application 20170083048

Gerald Lynch, Associate Editor of TechRadar, noted how "The case would essentially be useless without a smartphone housed inside it." The phone would take on the role of being the CPU core for the shell.

In one embodiment, Campbell said, "the accessory includes a port shaped to accommodate a host iPhone or iPad. Located in the base portion, this slot might also incorporate a communications interface and a means of power transfer, perhaps Lightning or a Smart Connector."

Lynch in TechRadar said, "Communications and shared power between the two devices could be transferred over Lightning or a Smart Connector port, with the iPhone acting as a trackpad with Force Touch haptics."

Tyler Lee in Ubergizmo said the application talked about the smartphone, such as the iPhone, being used to dock inside a slot on the laptop "in which not only would it power the device, but it will also double up as a trackpad for the computer as well."

So what are the chances this idea would eventually be advanced to a real product?

AppleInsider suggested we should not hold our breath.

"Considering Apple's stance on portable computing, especially recent advertising campaigns touting iPad as a laptop replacement, it is highly unlikely that today's published application will make its way to market. That said, the invention suggests Apple is, or at least was, mulling an expansion of its iOS device lineup to a point that blurs the line between handheld device and ."

Lynch seemed to have a similar verdict. He said, "with the iPad Pro already existing as Apple's halfway home between a mobile and work-focused device, the Cupertino seems to already have the base covered that this curio would be looking to hit."

While it may or may never become a product, Paul Lilly in Hot Hardware said Apple "might be testing the design in some lab in Cupertino, along with other experiments. It's certainly an interesting idea, though."

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More information: ELECTRONIC ACCESSORY DEVICE, United States Patent Application 20170083048

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User comments

Mar 25, 2017
Old idea. See Motorola Atrix lapdock from 2011 for example.

The novel part is using the phone itself as the trackpad.

Mar 25, 2017
Take a look at Android TV boxes and how far they can go, I have a 12 core one with 4gb ram and 64gb storage, 2TB drive attached via USB, I use a full size wireless mouse/keyboard and it can do quite a bit more than just watch TV.

I've actually been connecting my phone to my TV back since the SIIx (MHL), Now I just carry a chromecast an with me and a slim bluetooth mouse.

Imagine what you could do with a proper shell/dock like this with newer high end phones if, and I insist on pointing out the IF... The shell had hard drive space like 1TB in SSD storage, some sort of on board video card that can work with the phone and a large capacity battery (20700/21700 cells look promising).

It could really change the way we look at mobile software and while it wouldn't be a new age in computing it could bring in a new era of software development and go beyond what we currently consider portable electronics.

Bring your phone with you everywhere, go to work and it's your workstation.

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