Try poking your MacBook Pro’s screen with an Apple Pencil and one of two things happens: nothing, or you end up in the Apple Store trying to think up a less embarrassing explanation as to why your display needs repair.
But patent watchers have reason to believe that that may not always be the case. Last year, Apple submitted a patent that appears to show a MacBook with a dock for the Apple Pencil, and now, as spotted by Patently Apple, the company has updated it, suggesting it’s being actively worked upon.
The updates largely refer to the magnetic elements that keep the Apple Pencil in place, but it’s the original patent (and the fact Apple is continuing to update it) that’s of interest.
In one picture (mocked up more beautifully by Yanko Design at the top of the page) the Apple Pencil is seen above the number keys where the Apple TouchBar used to be on MacBook Pros. Intriguingly, the patent speaks of how it could emulate some of that functionality, allowing it to be surrogate function keys via clever haptic, audio and visual clues.
But it doesn’t have to be there, and given the patent also suggests it could be swivelled in its dock to replicate mouse-like functions of scrolling, zooming or adjusting sizes, a more natural home might be just above the touchpad, as shown here:
There’s also the possibility of attaching it to the side, either in a similar dock out of sight…
…or possibly stuck to the side with magnets.
The last one feels a bit more useless, but it does get around the problem of a bloody great hole in the MacBook for those who don’t want to buy an Apple Pencil to go with it. Yes, the Apple Pencil could be bundled with it, but the words “Apple” and “generosity” don’t tend to go hand in hand — and besides, to date it’s always been an optional accessory.
Of course, if the main purpose was as a scroll wheel or function bar, Apple would just include a scroll wheel or function bar. It’s presumably intended for drawing and note taking, as it currently is on the iPad, and it’s worth reflecting that this is something that would likely not have got off the drawing board if Steve Jobs was still calling the shots.
“We’ve done tons of user testing on this and it turns out it doesn’t work,” he said, in front of a giant slide of someone using a mocked up touchscreen MacBook in 2010. “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time you start to fatigue and after an extended period of time your arm wants to fall off. It’s ergonomically terrible.”
But Jobs’ 2010 opinion isn’t really relevant in 2022 — and Apple has shown its quite happy going against his design instincts in the years since his death. It’s hard to imagine Jobs backing the Apple Pencil, given he once described styluses as “yeurgh”.
Not that this means the MacBook with Apple Pencil will definitely happen. Apple patents loads of stuff it never uses in a commercially available product — but the fact this one has been updated suggests that it’s at least mulling over the idea…