Apple patent reveals idea for thinner MacBook Pro

By: Will Shanklin

We didn’t really need any new leaks to know that Apple is working on a thinner MacBook Pro. The current design has been around since late 2008 and, despite its greater capabilities, is starting to look chunky next to the ultra-thin MacBook Air. The big question, then, was whether Apple would lose optical drives altogether and essentially merge the Air and Pro lines, or if they would simply slim down the current Pro. It’s looking more like the latter, if a patent that was filed by Apple last year is any indication.

The patent focuses on the slimming down of the laptop’s optical drive. In order to do this, Apple is attempting to reinvent much of the core structure of the drive’s casing. Currently, an optical drive requires up and down movement of a motorized hub, which puts the DVD (or other disc) into place. This is the whirring and churning you hear on first inserting a disc. If one could eliminate the need for this securing mechanism, the height of the entire optical drive could be greatly reduced.

Apple’s answer for this involves magnetism. The simplified version of the process is that, on inserting a disc, a signal is sent to activate a magnetic field around a hub and clamp. The magnetism leads the hub and clamp to clear away space for the disc, which then centers the disc in place. Once the disc is in place, another signal is sent to remove the magnetic charge. The disc is now in place, without the need for any motorized hubs moving up and down (and taking up precious real estate inside the laptop).

The result should be a MacBook Pro that loses some girth. The lack of an optical drive is the biggest advantage that the Air has had over its big brother in achieving its considerable slimness. If the Pro can get almost to Air-like proportions without losing its optical drive, it could make for an unprecedented level of power and portability in notebooks.

Of course, Apple is a company that files lots of patents, so take this with a grain of salt. For every one patent that makes it into a product there are many more that never see the light of day. Some are likely filed just to own the innovation. But I think that this one is worth highlighting because it appears to offer an ideal answer for the problem of making a laptop thinner without losing the optical drive.

Whether you’re a fan of Apple or not, I think it’s hard not to appreciate the creative thinking behind designs like this, which question the fundamental mechanics of universally accepted designs.