Apple has today been granted a patent for an iPad Smart Cover with more smarts than usual: it incorporates a built-in display, and even a Wacom-style drawing tablet.
The patent illustrates a number of different ways the Smart Cover display could be used, from simply extending the iPad’s own display through text-only displays of things like reminders to a combined display and touchpad. Some of the options show the display acting as a full input device too, allowing both handwritten notes and drawings.
While we of course add our usual disclaimer that Apple patents way more things than it actually makes, two element of this patent have actually made it into production …
Such covers would of course need power, and the patent illustrates something immediately recognizable as the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. The only difference between patent drawing and actual product is that the drawing shows four connection points rather than three. We’ll get to the second real-life product shortly.
This does not, of course, mean that any of the rest of it will, but it has always seemed likely that Apple had more roles in mind for the Smart Connector than just keyboards.
At its simplest, Apple illustrates a cover with one extra column of icons, while the rest of the cover is devoted to solar panels.
A similar concept shows a small part of the cover being used as a combined display and touch panel.
Yet another embodiment combines reminders with a writing pad.
While the most sophisticated shows the cover acting as a Wacom-style live drawing pad, again incorporating something that now exists: the Apple Pencil.
The patent does, though, indicate that Apple changed its mind on one point.
Increasing the display area could lead to a significant expansion in functionality. Unfortunately, since displays already dominate a majority of one side of tablet devices, device manufacturers generally choose between making the display and therefore the device itself larger, thereby reducing the portability or making the device and display smaller with the result of a less functional device. Neither solution is desirable; therefore a way to extend the usability and functionality of a tablet device without making it any larger is desired.
Apple did, of course, go ahead and make a tablet with a larger display in the form of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.