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Apple’s removable MacBook mouse may be its weirdest idea yet

Apple has experimented with various different keyboard and mouse ideas, and it hasn’t always got them right – just look at the butterfly keyboard and the “hockey puck” mouse. Despite all that, the company is apparently thinking of an even more outlandish idea that could come to future MacBooks.

As detailed in a recently granted patent, Apple is working on a MacBook keyboard that contains a removable key. This key, the patent suggests, could be used as an extremely small mouse that would be potentially no larger than the Shift key. It’s a pretty wacky idea, even compared to Apple’s previous design stumbles.

Apple's 15-inch MacBook Air placed on a desk.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

The miniature mouse may be stored inside the keyboard’s case or nestled alongside other keys. In the latter case, it will function like any other key, Apple notes. When it’s removed, though, it would work just like a mouse, which means it must have a battery and be able to detect its position so you can use it to move a pointer around the screen.

That’s an awful lot to store inside such a tiny key. Apple does suggest that multiple keys could be grouped together and used as a mouse, but even so, it’s unclear how long the battery would last when the device needs to be so small. That — as well as the likely uncomfortable size and shape — means this probably isn’t a mouse you could use for long periods of time. That makes us wonder: what’s the point?

A mouse for ants

An illustration from an Apple patent showing a removable keyboard key that can be used as a wireless mouse.
Apple

According to the patent, Apple believes that carrying around a mouse in addition to a laptop can be burdensome and take up too much space. As well as that, a MacBook’s built-in trackpad might not be as precise as a mouse for certain tasks. That, it seems, has motivated Apple to look for an alternative.

That all sounds reasonable enough, except we’re talking about a key that may be an inch long at best. That’s hardly the kind of shape you’d find in a mouse that’s even remotely comfortable or ergonomic.

If the idea is to replace a mouse entirely, a minuscule mouse with a short-lived battery doesn’t seem like the ideal candidate. It also raises the question of what happens if you lose the removable key — in that case, you might end up losing both a key and a mouse at the same time.

Since this is a patent, it’s entirely possible Apple is just exploring ideas. Given all the drawbacks of this idea, it’s hard to imagine Apple will ever implement it in a MacBook, and it’s unlikely to become one of the best mice any time soon. Then again, Apple has made some pretty questionable design decisions in recent years, so anything is possible.

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