Dual-display clamshell iPad? Touchscreen MacBook? Either could happen

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Clamshell iPad
A clamshell iPad might have become more of a possibility
Photo: Cult of Mac

Apple has been granted a patent for a laptop with a second display in place of the keyboard. This could take the iPad Pro to the next level, or be the touchscreen MacBook many have asked for.

Or, realistically, it might not be anything at all. While this patent means that Apple has definitely considered a dual-display computer at some point, whether it will actually release one is much less certain. Companies regularly request patents for pie-in-the-sky projects just in case a thought experiment turns into a real product.

Apple has thousands of patents describing devices that never saw the light of day. The only thing that sets this one apart is that there are quite a few people who want a dual-screen tablet from Apple. Rumors of such a device in the past have always drawn quite a bit of attention and debate.

Apple’s Dual-Display Concept

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple patent 9,904,502. The original filing was way back in August 2015, but that doesn’t automatically mean the idea of a dual-display iPad has been shelved—product development often takes years.

The patent description is typically dry. It refers to “Electronic equipment, comprising: first and second housings that rotate relative to each other about a hinge axis; a first display in the first housing that emits light; and a second display in the second housing that emits light.”

Dual-screen iPad
Apple patent for a dual-screen computer

The patent covers devices that are permanently clamshells, as well as ones in which it can split apart at the hinges.

A computer that matches this description would be able to operate like a regular laptop computer with the second display taking the place of the keyboard and trackpad. Changing to different keyboard layouts would be a snap. And when typing isn’t required, there would be double the screen space for displaying multiple applications—far more than most laptops offer. The version that can split at the hinge would allow the user to carry around just a regular tablet if that’s all that’s required at the time.

Mac or iPad?

Whether this device would run MacOS or iOS is anyone’s guess at this point. Still, last year Apple CEO Tim Cook warned people that changes are coming to the iPad Pro line. “Expect us to do more and more where people will view it [the iPad] as a laptop replacement,” he said. A dual-display iPad would certainly qualify.

In the first few years it was available, Apple marketed the iPad as a tablet. With the release of the iPad Pro, it positioned this more powerful version as a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet, and began offering a clip on keyboard of its own design. Perhaps this patent is a clue to the next big step.

Another reason to suspect that a dual-screen device might run iOS is that Apple sells about twice as many iPads as it does Macs. That means a really innovative model has a higher potential revenue stream.

And don’t forget Tim Cook’s comment from 2015: “The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing.”