Laptops ( and phone, and tablets too ) may come and laptops may, go, but design is something that has always remained nearly constant. It is for good reason too. Consumers are always looking for greater laptops, lighter laptops, but are unwilling to compromise on screen size. While NetBooks did catch steam, eventually people decided that a laptop investment deemed necessary a large enough screen for comfortable viewing. This usually means above 13” or 15”, and many people still prefer projecting onto screens, connecting to home theatre systems and so on.
This unrelenting desire of consumers has lead to innovations from companies, forcing them to rethink design at a fundamental level. Ultrabooks, Laptop-Tablet hybrids, the MacBook Air, and even the new Mac Pro, are some amazing things we’ve seen. One major bottleneck on any portable-keyboard device is the hinge. Every performance-laptop needs a hinge, to close-screen and make it portable. It ends up being the joining factor between two distinct parts of the laptop, and forces designers to think along these lines. This mechanical device on the electrical and semiconductor marvel usually ends up being both a design bottleneck, and sometimes the reason consumers throw in the towel on a laptop. This is about to change, and soon.
The patent is for “interlocking flexible segments in a rigid material”. Rather than using a new material entirely, Apple is patenting the manufacturing process to create these flexible segments from any material, including metals, plastics and alloys. The process allows them to cut them in a geometric pattern, allowing it to bend. Either Lasers or Electrical Discharge Mining can be used to make these cuts, and the geometry and depth of these creates the patterns, with different patterns giving different levels of bend.
What’s amazing here is that using this, they can replace the need to manufacture the top and bottom part separately, and make a single strategically cut piece for the whole device. The hinge is now bendable. This also means that they can reduce the overall thickness of the device, possibly even the weight, and give them a more fluid feel. It also allegedly reduces the manufacturing cost of the device. Off-the-bat, this idea can help the MacAir, whose already tiny thickness is as large as it is because of the hinge. With this, the device could even come down to a uniform 0.11 inches.
The cut hinge idea can directly apply to many products, like headphones and tablet covers. Indeed Apple may decide to incorporate this in iEarphones, and the iPad covers before we ever see this on a laptop. A true revolution would be if components and circuit boards themselves could bend like this. That would mean limitless possibilities in design, fold-able smartphone screens, origami-like phones. The smartphone market has a long way to go. Most phones now have a very similar rectangular design, and we live in an era where keeping buttons on the phone’s back turns heads. This kind of innovative thinking, which Apple is renown for, is much needed to keep phone and tablet buyers intrigued as time marches on.