Apple’s New Patents for Slimmer Laptops

Laptops have been getting slimmer and more portable since the first time they were proposed as an alternative to the far less svelte desktop computers. While it might not be the best specification for all professionals (visual design, for example, works better with a large screen and a well-spaced keyboard), the slimness of electronic devices has become a marketing point on par with their processing capacity or camera capabilities, with companies competing to come up with newer, more lightweight options.

Of course, a laptop can only be made thin and portable up to a limit without losing the properties that make it different from say, a tablet or a smartphone. The slimmest laptops on the market already lack amenities like USB ports, and their performance is often not on par with their less anorexic counterparts. That said, the lightness smaller laptops, especially for professionals who are constantly required to be on the move, cannot be understated. At the end of the day, it’s a trade-off between power and portability and your choice of laptop is likely to be heavily influenced by what your life and career demand from you.

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Work-related requirements aside, companies are racing each other to come up with slimmer technology. While the final goal may have dubious utility, the contest has certainly driven technology and innovation forward. Take, for example, Apple’s recent patents— both of which focus on keyboard-adjacent technology.

US10957501B1 describes a keyboard system where the keys allow the user to type normally, but retract themselves when the device is in storage or other phases like sleep mode. The patent uses a magnetizable material to attract/repel keycaps. This in turn reduces the overall height requirement of the keyboard.

When the magnetizable material is set to attract the keycap, the keys are held in a retracted state without the requirement of further application of force or electricity. The effect is, essentially, a slimmer keyboard which is retractable when the laptop is powered off. This allows the user to have a physical sensation of pressing a keyboard while sacrificing less space for the keyboard height.

US10957501B1 is a related technology for selective keyboard backlighting which reduces the circuitry requirements. The idea here is to provide additional utility to keyboard backlighting, such as by highlighting only certain keys when, for example, the user is a playing a game which requires only input from certain keys. The invention also mentions multiple variations, such as selective brightness. All of this is accomplished with light-emitting elements, a light driver and a control sharing circuit.

Apple’s innovations are commendable, especially given that keyboards have been an essential computer component notoriously resistant to innovation. It’s still too early to see if the proposed technologies can be implemented in a cost-effective a customer-friendly manner, but we can still marvel at the pace of technology while we wait on that verdict.

Author: Varsha Valsaraj, Legal Associate at PA Legal.

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