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Could Apple be developing a New Post-PC Hybrid Desktop?

1& 4 - Apple's Baffle Patent May be a Piece fo their Multi-Touch iMac Puzzle - May 2011 
A couple of Apple's recent patent applications have come to light that oddly open the door to the notion that they may be toying with a hybrid desktop-tablet system. It began in earnest late last summer with the introduction of Apple's Multi-Touch iMac patent and now a secondary patent puts this possibility back into play. The Post-PC era may have started with a simplistic tablet called the iPad but hybrid systems may be the next wave in Apple's revolution.  


The First Patent


Our report about future hybrid systems oddly begins with the clash between two recent Apple patents that described seemingly similar end-products but in the end begged for closer scrutiny. Such scrutiny opened the door to the fact that although they were close in nature, one patent actually emerged as a possible pivotal piece of a future hybrid desktop system. We'll quickly present the clash between these two patents and then move onto the core discussion about the likelihood of future hybrid systems.


There were two Apple patent applications that surfaced in April that dealt with holding a glass display (or protective glass cover) into place on a metal frame. The first patent application (20110075342) clearly identified the computer as being that of an iMac. To clarify, we present one of the graphics presented in the first patent below (FIG. 8) juxtaposed to a graphic from the second patent.


2 - Apple's Baffling Device vs. a Traditional iMac - May 2011 

The central focus of the first patent was simply to explain Apple's use of magnets around the iMac's frame in concert with the use a bottom metal chin to keep the display or protective glass in place. This very method was confirmed in Step 5 of iFixit's teardown of a 27" iMac.


Apple's first patent in and of itself was simply confirming what the community generally already knew and so we didn't bother posting a report on that patent. But then a second patent came to light shortly afterwards that provided new twists and contradictory insights into affixing a display to the frame of a computing device which raised an eyebrow.


The Second Patent


Apple's second patent in question was the subject of an April report titled "Apple Patent Reveals a New Baffling iPad Design." Our initial report focused on the most obvious feature presented in the patent which was the addition of a baffle to what appeared to be that of a possible future iPad. But after our report was posted, we returned to review the patent once again because of several other anomalies that we didn't touch on in our report.


This second patent differed from the first in several meaningful ways. The first distinction was that it refused to identify what specific end-user product it was for and instead simply pointed to "computers" and "handheld devices" in general. The first patent, on the other hand, clearly identified itself as being related to Apple's iMac.


A second distinction from the first patent was that the newly proposed device design didn't include a description or illustration of a built-in pedestal of any kind whatsoever. This is why our initial report described the unit as being that of a possible future iPad.


A third distinction from the first patent was that it described protective glass restraint structures and never once described them as being magnetic in nature as was the case with the iMac related patent.


For a true iMac desktop the use of magnets to keep the display (or protective glass) in place may suffice because the unit is, for the most part, stationary. But what if the unit is to be part of a hybrid desktop where the display would be detachable for use as a tablet? Magnets may not suffice under such usage and therefore Apple has chosen to simply identify their method in the second patent as simply one of utilizing glass restraints, generically.


At the end of the day, the iMac uses magnets and according to iFixit, the iPad uses "tons of glue" to secure the display (or protective glass) in place. So once again, why is Apple describing yet a third method of securing the protective glass with generically described protective restraints?


The final off-beat piece of the puzzle associated with this unidentified system that is generically described in the patent as being associated with a "computer" or "handheld devices," is that it carries one similar trait of the iMac in that it includes a metallic chin located at the bottom of the frame (see patent point #110 below). So what is the second patent actually trying to describe and why would it be associated with both a computer and a handheld device?


3A - Apple Patent reveals a possible future iPad-like device incorporating a Baffle System - 2011 

If the design isn't that of a classic iPad or classic iMac, then what could it be?


Is Apple Considering a Hybrid Desktop?


In the bigger picture, could Apple's second patent be associated with a proposed hybrid desktop-tablet system? Apple first introduced a full-pledged iMac Touch system back in August 2010. The naysayers at that time thought that the iMac would be too large for a detachable tablet. But that's only true if you're stuck with the notion that a hybrid desktop would have to mirror today's current 21.5" or 27" sized iMacs.


Apple's second patent may have provided us with a clue that the contemplated iPad-like device could in fact be a part of a future hybrid desktop system which would go a long way in explaining why Apple chose to place the mysterious device into two differing camps: Computer and Handheld. The incorporation of a baffle on the device's back-end would suggest that this particular design may be able to accommodate a more powerful architecture than that of a traditional iPad – which we'll touch on a bit later.


The device's incorporation of a chin structure would also strongly suggest that the end product could take on more of an iMac-like appearance than that of traditional iPad as first thought. It's a design concept that opens the door to a possible surprise for OS X Lion, or at the very least, a future upgrade to that OS which could take on more iOS functionality over time. An alternative to this scenario is presented further below.


1& 4 - Apple's Baffle Patent May be a Piece fo their Multi-Touch iMac Puzzle - May 2011 

Apple has been toying with a number of scenarios supporting a hybrid desktop for years. There was the magnetic docking system which clearly connects the dots between an iMac-like docking structure and a magnet-backed tablet design. In fact Apple was recently granted a patent for that very design.


Then there was a modern iMac-shell-like dock which was first assumed as being associated with a notebook but could very likely fit a scenario of being a docking station for a sophisticated future tablet. When we add those Apple scenarios to the iMac Touch patent of 2010, we clearly see that that Apple has been and currently is attempting to define some kind of new desktop-like device that would usher in the Post PC era with a bang – well beyond the tablet form factor.


Hybrid Systems are Coming to Market


A recent rumor surfaced which caused a lot of angst and anger. It basically stated that Apple would transition away from Intel's x86 to that of ARM for a 2013 MacBook. With Apple really gaining steam in the enterprise market, I highly doubt that Apple would make such a draconian move. However, that doesn't mean that the entire idea is dead in the water. In fact, it doesn't have to be an either/or scenario at all. Apple could very easily be creating a hybrid system that would accommodate both x86 and ARM processors.


Does that scenario sound a little too farfetched for you? Well consider this: A recent EETimes article reveals the stunning news that ARM Holdings is in serious talks with AMD. The report specifically states that "One possibility is that AMD could amend its Fusion architecture to include both x86 and ARM CPU cores plus graphics cores in a heterogeneous multiprocessor." Without a doubt, such a hybrid architecture would certainly be a game changer. It may even explain to some degree why AMD held secret talks with Apple last year.


The hybrid architecture scenario would also fit perfectly with HP's plans to have their upcoming WebOS running inside a new browser on future Windows hardware by 2012. The mysterious unnamed browser concept was revealed by HP's CEO Leo Apotheker during a recent interview.


So the concept of creating Post-PC hybrid computer systems is definitely on the minds of many in the industry which could give way to various next generation hardware combinations such as desktop-tablets, notebook-tablets and beyond.


The Crazy One's Think Different


A few years back when the PC industry began pushing notebooks into the massive 18" to 20" display arena, Apple thought differently once again and went in the opposite direction by debuting their breakthrough design known as the MacBook Air – which today is available in both 11and 13 inch models. In that same vein we could easily envision Apple creating a new hybrid iMac touch utilizing a much smaller display.


If you think about it, a modest 12-17 inch iMac-like desktop would be light enough to carry around and work with as a tablet for general surfing, email and games while being able to double as a full pledge multi-touch desktop once mated to an iMac-like docking station for office related apps. The appearance of the unit looking distinctively like an iMac as opposed to an iPad would be making a distinctive statement. It would instantly signify that such a unit is a dual OS system (like OS X Lion and iOS).


Such a hybrid system could also serve a need to run more sophisticated OS X based apps supporting multi-touch. Microsoft's Windows 7 and 8 are pushing more and more business apps into the touch arena and Apple may want to allow developers of those PC apps to easily port them to OS X Lion or more specifically, to an iMac touch based desktop. Apple may want to establish a bridging system for that purpose alone. And keep in mind that multi-touch is going far beyond handhelds and into future table systems and beyond. So the concept of a hybrid architecture is far from fiction. 


But at the end of the day there's only so far we could go with a theoretical hybrid system without falling off a cliff. While we don't have all of the pieces of Apple's puzzle just yet, there's certainly a growing body of evidence that supports such a possibility and why we felt it time to at least put it on our radar screen.


Ever since Steve Jobs uttered the phrase "Post PC era" at the All Digitals D8 event last summer, it has captured the imagination of the entire industry and especially the Mac Community. Apple could once again be preparing to push the industry forward with advanced hybrid systems of one sort or another and once again prove that thinking differently is simply what the Crazy One's in Cupertino do, every day of the year. 


Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. Patents shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple patents represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.



Anyone who thinks AMD is falling behind in nanometer fabrication is a fool.

Intel announces research years in advance before they're able to successfully bring to market these ideas, as a means of preemption against the likes of IBM and AMD, both of whom already have been doing and advancing research in the same fields earlier.

With Bulldozer's imminent release, Intel had to say something or people would be immediately asking how it is that AMD leap-frog'd Intel once more as they did with amd64.

There is a reason Apple is moving away from Nvidia and towards AMD. They hired one of the preeminent Graphics persons away from AMD and then came the partnership in GPGPUs.

AMD has embraced and extended OpenCL with Apple. Nvidia is begrudgingly embracing OpenCL while extending CUDA. AMD's APUs in the Embedded space E6760 opens up a lot of opportunities for Apple adding these to their laptops in multiple slots.

I like the idea and once iCloud becomes active, apple could create something like this because there wouldn't be a need for a hard drive, meaning 1 less heat sync, and because the hard drive is likely to be the thickest thing in an imac, the thickness then can be reduced.
I'm quite happy with my iPad 2, but this would be amazing!

The idea of creating a higher level tablet is most interesting. To then distinguish them by having one that looks like a mini iMac is creatively inventive. I could put it on the stand for when I need to use it with a full keyboard for office apps, yet remove the tablet from the iMac stand to use it as a tablet or some kind of LapTV or gaming station.

A hybrid system as presented could temp many on the PC side to try it out because they could use it with bootcamp or maybe parallels. This way it's a PC tablet too. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Nice idea if Apple every pulls it off. It wouldn't be a classic postpc device because it's part pc, but it's a bridging system for skeptics to try out without much risk to the downside.

I think the idea is that it's an iMac hybrid more than it's an iPad hybrid. A MacBook Air isn't heavy and so a hybrid iMac would be just as light with a 12 to 14 inch display. Something nice in the kitchen, on a den desk or in the TV room. I like the idea.

The entire idea that the stand tilts for touch doesn't strike me as Apple elegant.

A hybrid iPad for me would be two things --

1. In a simple stand, an extra TV. Or access point for music, email, whatever. Every morning I bring my iPad into the kitchen for just such a purpose. When I'm done with breakfast --

2. -- I take it away and it becomes a portable web surfing, book reading, bathroom gaming (lol) device. Now, what would be interesting is that if --

3. -- it had a DOCK and could be also used as simple a desktop computer, with a ready keyboard and a trackpad.

The catch HERE is that the iPad needs to be larger but not much heavier.

@RBoyin. You said: "The magnets holding protective glass are likely intended for a portable iMac." The link to iFixit step 5 shows it's for a 27 iMac, period.

@ Mel.

Apple is smart enough to pull this off no matter if they're working with AMD or just creating their own Intel + A5 chip. Though the point is that AMD is a little lost as you suggest Mel and why ARM is looking to attack Intel head on their own turf of PCs as they know that Intel is after the mobile space. It's really an ARM deal for their interest as you don't need a rocket Intel chip to run 95% of consumer or office apps. AMD's chips power 60% + of HP's latest PCs. Just go to Best Buy and you'll see how many AMD chips are in systems versus Intel's.

Apple is smart enough to figure out what's best for them and for a hybrid iMac AMD would be way cheaper and better in my opinion.

The magnets holding protective glass are likely intended for a portable iMac. I expect they can be strong enough for the purpose. Apple has a lot of experience with magnetic catches and the like by now. There was just no reason to identify them as part of the second patent.

One wonders where the prototypes are produced. The chinese sources are not to be trusted for such test products. Apple is certainly going down the path of touch. They have uncovered a fundamental connection to mind/body that bridges the barrier of high tech digital to human analog users. "Intimate" does not quite capture the connection. It may even reach back to the chimp level of our development.

While I can see, and have given serious thought to a Mac with an Apple ARM chip inside, I think that Apple would be nuts to go with AMD. Even if AMD does come out with a hybrid, they have two problems that I believe would keep Apple from going with them.

The first is that they're too small. Because of that, they had to sell their fabs, or at least a large part of them, and I think that they will divest themselves of the rest in the future. Because of this, I can't see Apple being interested in AMD. One of the biggest problems Apple had with Motorola, Freescale, and even IBM, was their small, non industry leading fab capacity. As a result, Apple had trouble getting the number of chips it needed, and had problems getting these manufacturers to move quickly on the R&D front.

I don't see Apple ever wanting to return to that senario again.

The other major problem for them is that despite some good chips in a couple of areas, it looks as though AMD will never be a challenge to Intel again. Indeed, they're falling further behind. They haven't yet moved to 32nm, while Intel is moving to 22nm. That's just one area of problems. As we can see with the new iMacs, Apple is now providing upgrades that have the computing power of a single chip Mac Pro. My thoughts about that are that they may be thinking of dropping the single chip Mac Pro, or the entire line (I hope not as I've got one). So they won't want industry trailing designs. It's also why we see the rumors of Intel fabbing Apple's "A" series of SoC's. It would make sense for both companies.

There is no way to know whether any hybrid chip AMD comes out with will be successful. I can't see Apple hoping or depending on that. While it would be more complex to have an "A" series chip in an Apple computer along with an x86, it would likely be a more reliable design that would be at least a year, or more, earlier to market. The A5 is supposed to cost Apple $25, from best estimations. That cost, along with the cheap additional components might raise the price of a computer by $50-$75. Not a bad compromise, at least, not in the beginning.

As far as Apple's talks with AMD go, it could likely have been about Apple's current move toward using AMD's line of gpu's over Nvidia's, nothing more.

I would not be happy to see Apple moving to AMD as their CPU supplier.

It is nice to see this data come out. I have no doubt that such a hybrid system was in the works for a long time. It is clear Apple's strategy has been very long term from the time when Jobs returned. I am always surprised when I realize sources assume the iOS Mac systems will remain separate. Given the way computers are made and how they work, it would make no sense to a centralized company like Apple to keep them this way. The trick for Apple is figuring out exactly what the mission of a system is that compellingly combines the strengths of iPad and Mac. It is worth noting that no other company would be able to do this R&D because of the separation of hardware and OS companies, and also because of the Windows/Android divide. It will be interesting to see what happens...

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