Apple doubling down on bendable designs for MacBook, MacBook Pro

Future models of MacBook or MacBook Pro could adopt a monocoque design with a seamless foldable hinge mechanism to allow Apple to build them from a single piece of material.

It could open like a regular MacBook Pro, but this potential future design would include a foldable hinge

Following numerous Apple patent applications for folding and even roll-up screens for iPhone and iPad, the company is also examining the advantages of a MacBook Pro being able to fold. Rather than the current complex hinge mechanism connecting the screen to the computer body, Apple is studying a more flexible device.

“Planar hinge assembly”, US Patent No. 10,642,318, primarily describes how such a design could apply to a MacBook Pro style device.

“A personal computing device includes a one-piece body having an overall seamless appearance and which includes a foldable portion which is capable of having a smoothly curved shape,” he said.

“The one-piece body includes a first part capable of carrying a display suitable for the presentation of visual content, and a second part which is capable of carrying an input device adapted to accept an input action.”

Apple is careful to always describe “a personal computing device” and its details may also apply to “a smartphone shell or tablet computer”. But it all depends, so to speak, on what is called “a multi-state bending assembly”.

The idea is that the MacBook Pro, or another device, can be made in one plane, and that this “one-piece body” has a “foldable part”. The foldable part must still house the same electronics which currently connects a screen to a keyboard, it must remain “in mechanical communication”.

Apple’s solution is to make the “adjustable flex structure” formed from “a stack of layers that can go from an uncompressed to a compressed state”.

Most of the details relate to how these layers can be compressed or uncompressed, as well as how each is “able to fold in unison in response to an applied force”. There is actually surprisingly little about the specific benefits of having an elbow instead of a regular hinge.

There is the problem that a current MacBook Pro hinge is a complex design, but it is now extremely well tested. A foldable hinge could however be simpler and therefore more reliable.

Detail of the patent showing how a fold could be produced using several layers
Detail of the patent showing how a fold could be produced using several layers

However, there is also a question of what else could bend next to this hinge. “For example, the flexible consumer product may include [a] flexible display that overlaps and is supported by [the] adjustable bending structure “, explains the patent.

This is similar to a previous Apple plan for a device that, instead of a standard screen and keyboard, instead has two screens, one of which can display an input device. This design included a regular hinge, but this flexible one also refers to how a part “can be used to present visual content while a second part can be used to emulate an input device”.

When such a screen could cover a foldable hinge, Apple also suggests that such an “adjustable folding structure may also include a flexible battery”. This is also similar to a previous design, this time for a foldable battery for iPhone or iPad.

The patent is credited to Alex J. Lehmann and Paul X. Wang. The two have already been listed as inventors on patents, including “Computer systems with finger devices” and “Tactile input device with haptic feedback”. Wang is also credited with a “Housing structures and I / O devices for electronic devices”.

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