Apple resurrects a design from earliest days of personal computers

Apple resurrects a design from earliest days of personal computers

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Apple resurrects a design from earliest days of personal computers
If you think this is an iMac, think again. The computer isn’t where you think it is.
Photo: Apple

Apple filed a patent application for a desktop computer that’s also a keyboard. If that seems familiar, it’s the design used by some of the first personal computers back in the 1900s.

Because even old ideas can still have merit.

A patent for a Mac and keyboard in one

Apple recently filed a patent application for “Computer in an Input Device.” The filing describes in technical terms a keyboard that has a processor and memory.

In the stilted language used in patent documents, it says, “A computing device can include an enclosure that defines an internal volume and an external surface. An input component can be positioned at the external surface. A processing unit and a memory can be communicatively coupled and disposed within the internal volume.”

That description would also fit a Commodore VIC-20, a computer released in 1980. And the followup, the Commodore 64 from 1982. The Apple II from 1977 is somewhat similar, though it needed a lot of extra space for its processor and other components.

Commodore VIC-20
Apple engineers proposed a Mac that looks like an updated version of the classic Commodore VIC-20.
Photo: Evan Amos/Wikipedia CC

A Mac mini alternative?

Those early home computers were designed to be connected to a TV. The proposed Mac-in-a-keyboard would also need an external display.

The same is true of the Mac mini, of course, and the the Mac/keyboard combo might someday replace Apple’s tiny desktop.

As the M-series processor used in the Mac mini doesn’t require cooling, the components of the device would easily fit in a thick keyboard — they fit in an iPad Pro after all. And there’d be plenty of room for input/output ports across the back.

A computer built into a keyboard that needs an external monitor is sort of an alternate-universe version of the iMac — a computer built into a monitor that needs an external keyboard. Both attempt to reduce the amount of space taken up on the users desktop.

All that said, simply because Apple requested a patent on design for a computer inside a keyboard doesn’t mean it will definitely release such a thing. The company regularly files patent requests for products and concepts that are never heard from again.