This is the "Apple Surface Book" that was never meant to be... or is it?
“A computer including a base and a display removable from the base.” Sounds familiar? A quick search for patent 9,176,536 on the US Patent and Trademark’s website, reveals a patent, originally filed September 30th 2011, and published April 4th 2013, for a device that “looks” a lot like a Microsoft Surface Book. The patent was granted to Apple, just yesterday November 3rd 2015.
We say “looks”, because the working principle for the device is definitely not identical to the Surface Book.
Starting from the detachable display, the abstract, as well as the title of the patent, describes what is essentially a “Wireless display for electronic devices”, which means that the detachable screen is meant to work wirelessly with the base, and not as a separate touch screen device, although the description of the patent does mention the possibility for a capacitive touch input.
The method of detachment of the display from the base is also different. In the Microsoft Surface Book the Muscle Wire mechanism requires a special metallic alloy that changes shape when the metal is electrically charged. On the other hand, in the design patented by Apple, the screen detaches from the base, using magnets, in a manner that is typically found in MacBooks.
By such token, in reference to the use of magnetized connectors, the patent also describes the base as the charging mechanism for the display, which also seems to pertain to a method for data transfer, through said connectors.
Are we still talking about the Surface Book?
Judging by the headlines, it seems logical to think that Apple’s patent pertain to a device that is build along the lines of something very similar to the Surface Book, yet, there is a way to read the patent which brings to light the following important detail: This patent has almost nothing to do with the Surface Book.
While discussing this patent we have noticed a few glaring details such as :
- The magnetized interface connectors designed to hold the display in place on the base.
- The same magnetized mechanism providing charging for the display, or vice versa.
- A wireless display providing a touch input interface that is designed to work with a keyboard built in the base.
While it might seem that this patent “walks” like a Surface Book, and “talks” like a Surface Book, in fact it shares a lot more in common with...
The iPad Pro
The funny thing about interpreting patents, is that patent applications may include many different types of scenario, and in this particular one, we have a detachable touchscreen display(the iPad Pro), which seems to be using the same type of magnetized proprietary triple-dot gold connector found on the iPad Pro. As far as the base for the device, it takes little effort imagining how the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard fits the profile of the base described in this patent.
Having said that, no: Microsoft did not copy Apple.
Considering that the patent was originally filed in 2011, Microsoft had four years to consider a device that would be remotely similar to the iPad Pro. Furthermore, Steve Ballmer was still, more or less in charge of a company that was very much focused on the traditional desktop PC, until Satya Nadella took over, and elaborated on at least one good idea from the outgoing management: the Microsoft Surface. Of course, Nadella’s idea went a lot further along a mobile-first experience, which resulted in the planning of several more devices built to function within the Windows 10 ecosystem. This is “...one more thing...” that Tim Cook’s Apple is never going to do, which is to introduce a desktop operating system like Mac OS X on a touchscreen tablet.