A new Apple patent suggests that future MacBooks could have “self-opening” and “self-angling” screens

The best way to preserve a MacBook’s hinge is to make sure you never have to touch it…

Titled the “Self-Actuating Hinge Mechanism for Electronic Device”, the new patent filed by Apple at the USPTO discusses how the Cupertino giant is potentially working on a line of notebooks that have motorized lids that open and close on their own. Designed so you never have to fiddle with a laptop lid again, constantly adjusting it to suit your angle needs, this potential new device would simply use the machine’s on-board webcam to track your face and angle the screen appropriately, so the display’s facing you at the right angle, and the webcam’s PoV has your face right in the center of its frame. I can just imagine Craig Federighi recreating his 2020 meme to show this new hands-free feature!

The patent images (showcased below) are quite primitive, but they do a pretty decent job of highlighting exactly what Apple means while solving their main purpose – effectively protecting Apple’s own intellectual property. It’s common practice for companies to patent designs and technologies with the full intention of never releasing them (like the MacBook concept with a dock for an Apple Pencil), just so that they then own the IP on the product and its underlying technology… which means the chances of having an ‘autonomous MacBook lid’ may be close to zero, but it’s fun to see that Apple’s actually tinkering with the technology.

There’s a case to be made that this complicated little feature could potentially make the MacBook more accessible, allowing disabled people to use Apple’s laptops too, or more realistically, promoting hands-free use so you could use your hands to sketch on an iPad or engage in other activities… like driving an Apple Car?? Although the most realistic application of this patent filing, as AppleInsider reports, is to further help Apple develop their Gaze Detection feature that lets cameras locate and fix on a person’s gaze – something that the company showcased with the iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode, and could potentially even allow MacBooks to support FaceID, allowing them to unlock when the camera notch detects the right face.

As a counter-argument, the idea of a motorized self-opening lid (as absolutely cool as it sounds) just makes the MacBook an incredibly complicated machine. It’s common knowledge in the consumer-tech world that mechanical moving parts on gadgets are always the first to fail, and the idea of putting a motor inside a sleek laptop just creates a major point of failure – just ask the companies who briefly integrated pop-up cameras in their phones just to avoid putting a notch on them. Sure, the hinge currently on MacBooks is still a mechanical detail (and it often fails with rough use), but one could argue that motorizing the hinge potentially creates more problems than it solves. The feature would consume battery too (since it would require the webcam to keep switching on) and would potentially even bring up the MacBook’s overall cost by a significant amount… although the idea of saying “Hey Siri, open my MacBook” sounds incredibly cool!

Designer/Visualizer: Sarang Sheth

Patent via USPTO