Skip to main content

According to these patents, the future of the Mac could be very strange

Who says Apple can’t innovate anymore? Apple patents a hell of a lot of ideas and inventions for its computers, some of which make it into its various Macs, sometimes many years down the line. Whenever the company comes up with a great new concept, from the Force Touch trackpad to the Magic Keyboard and everything in between, the first thing it does is rush off to the patent office and get its idea locked down.

Yet not everything Apple has patented for the Mac over the years has turned out to be quite so inspired. In its quest to find the next “insanely great” thing, Apple’s engineering team sometimes gets a little carried away. The results are wacky, off-the-wall and frequently humorous. Luckily for us, they’re all publicly available on the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office, revealing themselves in all their weird glory.

In this article, we present to you the pick of the bunch, the high-concept Mac dreams that may or may never make the cut.

Deformable glass keyboards

Image credit: Apple, USPTO Image used with permission by copyright holder

Rumors of Apple doing away with its keyboards and replacing them with virtual equivalents have been around for years (and probably picked up a lot of steam in the wake of the controversial butterfly keyboard). Yet these aren’t just the whispers of desperate keyboard warriors. Apple is actually considering the idea, and the Touch Bar is only the beginning.

But this patent doesn’t describe any old glass screen keyboard, oh no. Apple’s gone one better with its deformable keyboard, which will bend to your will like a craven flunkey. Push on the screen and it’ll flex, giving you a better feel than plain old glass. It could even have bumps and divots to guide your fingers.

Yet given the poor reception to the low-travel butterfly keyboard, this is probably an idea that’s best left unfulfilled.

Control your Mac with wild gesticulations

Image credit: Apple, USPTO Image used with permission by copyright holder

Who needs keyboards when you can just control your Mac by flailing your arms about the place? That’s the thought process behind a few Apple patents, all of which would let you perform various tasks through similar gestures to those currently employed on Apple’s trackpads — except in the air.

The technology, dubbed ZoomGrid, works like this: Imagine a grid of  movies is displayed on your screen. To view more movies, you would “grab” one in the air and swipe to the side, revealing more. It’s something right out of Minority Report, only with less Tom Cruise, and possibly less future prediction.

If it ever comes to fruition, the flapping gesture system will be a sure-fire way to convince your neighbors you’ve finally gone mad.

Privacy goggles for that sci-fi flair

Image credit: Apple, USPTO Image used with permission by copyright holder

Speaking of looking mad, here’s a corker. Apple is known for its strong stance on user privacy. But what if you’re dealing with sensitive info on your Mac, like viewing your bank account or your family photos? Couldn’t someone just come up behind you and unveil your deepest secrets?

Not with Apple’s patented privacy goggles, they couldn’t! Demonstrating the beauty of the Apple system, the spectacles work in tandem with your Mac to frustrate would-be peeping Toms. To anyone without the goggles, your screen will just look like a blurry mess — but to the privacy Power Ranger with their trusty glasses, everything is crystal clear.

It’s an awfully specific use case, but this is a technology we could easily see Apple  develop and sell to a different company.

An invention not quite up to scratch

Image credit: Apple, USPTO Image used with permission by copyright holder

Your Mac already has lots of great input methods, but haven’t you always just wanted more? Sure, a trackpad is fine, I guess, but we all know how they work these days. What if you could control your computer through an all-new input method, one that is bafflingly abstruse and of questionable sanity? Well don’t worry everyone, I have good news. There’s an Apple patent for that.

This particular bright idea concerns fitting an “acoustic input device” into a device chassis. This would allow you to tap and scratch the device in various ways, with the resulting sounds being interpreted by the computer as inputs. While it’s no doubt an interesting idea, it may not be particularly clever to encourage people to hit and scratch their expensive Apple kit just to get it to work.

The space-age iMac

Image credit: Apple, USPTO Image used with permission by copyright holder

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We love the iMac’s design, but boy is it getting old now. The ultra-slim iteration has been with us since 2012, which is roughly 700 years in computer time. Even Apple must be getting bored of it.

In fact, this patent suggests that Apple does indeed think the iMac’s design is past its sell-by date. In Apple’s vision, the iMac of the future will be made from a single, curved sheet of glass, with an embedded display, keyboard and dual trackpads either side of the keyboard. It’s all a bit mad, but showcases what must be a dream machine for Apple’s engineers. But you just know some clickbait-fueled YouTuber will take a brick to it as soon as it goes on sale.

Editors' Recommendations

Alex Blake
In ancient times, people like Alex would have been shunned for their nerdy ways and strange opinions on cheese. Today, he…
Apple’s serious miscalculation with the 15-inch MacBook Air
Apple's 15-inch MacBook Air placed on a desk.

Did Apple overestimate demand for a larger MacBook Air? A recent report suggests Apple reduced orders from its supply chain, indicating sales of the largest budget MacBook fell short of expectations.

According to DigiTimes, which specializes in supply chain news, 15-inch MacBook Air sales seem to be off to a bad start. People with knowledge of the matter are reported to say that Apple cut the shipment volume by half in July 2022.

Read more
Apple may be working on a crazy modular MacBook with 3 screens
Apple's 15-inch MacBook Air placed on a desk.

The Framework laptop has shown that modular laptops can offer something really compelling to customers, and it seems that Apple might have taken notice. That’s because a newly granted patent (number 11709527) suggests the Cupertino, California company is considering a modular MacBook that could let you come up with all kinds of crazy combinations of screen, keyboard, and more.

For example, some of the illustrations in Apple’s patent document show a device with two displays, with the MacBook keyboard replaced entirely by a second screen. This display could be used as an Apple Pencil input area or as a virtual keyboard, something we know Apple is already working on.

Read more
Want an M3 Max MacBook Pro? There’s a lengthy wait ahead
An Apple MacBook Pro 14 sits open on a table.

If you’ve been holding out for a super-powered MacBook Pro with a high-end M3 Pro or M3 Max chip, you could have a lengthy wait on your hands. That’s because, despite Apple’s plans to launch new Macs later this year, several are reportedly going to miss the cut.

That’s according to journalist Mark Gurman, who claims in a new report that Apple’s flagship 16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pro models are unlikely to launch until the middle of 2024. Worse, the M3 Mac mini might not see the light of day until late 2024 at the earliest.

Read more