Could Apple produce a solar-charging MacBook with rear touch sensors and two displays?
What's the biggest problem with using a laptop out and about? Apart from the need to track down a stable Wi-Fi connection, what concerns most laptop owners is how long they are able to keep working when away from a source of power.
It's a problem that faces mobile phone and tablet users, but for users of smaller devices there are small, cheap, backup batteries available, some of which can be charged via solar panels. A new patent awarded to Apple means that a similar technology could be making its way to MacBooks. But there's more... much, much more... to get excited about.
The patent is titled Electronic device display module and describes a laptop display that features "electrochromic glass" on the rear and "may cover photovoltaic cells and touch sensors". So a laptop lid that has built in solar panels. Nice. Solar panels are far from being efficient enough for one the size of a laptop lid to power the laptop it is attached to, but it would certainly be enough to provide a trickle charge for the battery.
The patent states that the rear panel can be switched between transparent and opaque modes through the application of a current. And this is where things start to get really interesting. Why would you want the rear panel of a laptop to become transparent? Well, Apple says "a two-sided display may be formed in which one display is front facing and the other display is rear facing". So, two displays back to back built into the lid of a laptop. Interesting! If you want to raise the excitement levels even further, take a look at some of the sketches that accompany the patent.
The proposal that "touch sensors may be located under the rear plate and may gather touch input" is also very intriguing. There are already mobile phones which will accept touch input through the rear of the device. The patent certainly makes it sound as though Apple has something planned in this area, and it will be interesting to see what comes of it. Laptops do not naturally lend themselves to operation by touching the rear of the display, but the use of electrochromic glass (switching between opaque and transparent), coupled with the presence of a two-sided display suggests something: a laptop that can be used in the usual way, but also features a lid that not only serves as a solar panel, but also a second, touch-sensitive display.
Now that is exciting!
As with all patents, there is no way of knowing when -- or indeed if -- a related product will actually see the (sun)light of day. This could be a patent that is sat on for some time, but a focus on battery life is likely to be a focus for laptop and mobile device manufacturers in coming years so it would not be in the least surprising if something is produced in the near future.