A new application is published on The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, from the apple side application for an “Electronic accessory device” describes the company’s take on an off-attempted, but never fully realized idea.

An Apple patent application published on Thursday details a so-called “thin” portable hardware accessory that boasts the components necessary to act as a laptop surrogate for iPhones and iPads.Apple is developing technology that transforms your iPhone into a MacBook.

Key feature:

  • New patent describes system that turns an iPhone or iPad into a laptop
  • Devices would be placed in a docking station of a laptop-like shell
  • iPhone would act as the trackpad and iPhone as touch-enabled display
  • Users would be able to use their handheld devices for more complicated tasks

Patent description

 The patent, entitled ‘Electronic accessory device’, was first spotted by Apple Insider.

The application describes an accessory device, the MacBook-like shell, having a docking port suitable for accepting a host device, an iPhone or iPad. The laptop-like device would be fitted with ‘operational components and a communication port that facilitates formation of a communication channel between the host device and at least one of the operational components where the host device provides substantially all processing resources and has full access to the at least one operational component,’ reads the patent

Apple’s proposed hardware would be taking to a MacBook, with aluminum mentioned as an ideal enclosure material. Alternatively, a host device might transfer data and commands to the accessory via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other wireless protocol. Onboard memory modules would further extend an iOS device’s capabilities. Though the document fails to delve into details, accessory memory would presumably allow an iPhone or iPad to write and read app data. In other cases, a secondary operating system or firmware might be installed to imitate a laptop environment or store laptop-ready versions of iOS apps.

In addition to crunching numbers, a host device might also double as a touch input. For example, an iPhone positioned below the accessory’s keyboard can serve as the unit’s multitouch touchpad, complete with Force Touch input and haptic feedback. Coincidentally, the surface area of a 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus is very similar to that of the enlarged trackpad on Apple’s new MacBook Pro models.

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 laptop.

Apple’s accessory laptop patent application was first filed for in September 2016 and credits Brett W. Degner as its inventor.