Apple's automatic shotgun approach to patent filing means we get all sorts of weird and wonderful insights into the imaginations of the company's designers, who have come up with everything from "sick vapes" to phones made entirely from glass. The most recent patent appears to err on the more conventional side of design, proffering a contraption that combines a phone or tablet with a notebook "shell".
Essentially, it's a notebook chassis that can accept either a phone, which becomes a high-tech trackpad, or a tablet that acts as a touchscreen. The patent explains the gizmo thusly:
An electronic accessory device, comprising: an operational component that provides an output to a user; a housing carrying the operational component, the housing having a recess; and a control interface coupled to the operational component and configured to receive a control signal from an electronic host device when the electronic host device is positioned within the recess and coupled to the control interface, wherein the electronic accessory device is inoperable without the electronic host device being coupled to the control interface.
In case anyone is confused by how exactly said gadgets would be attached to the chassis (described as an "electronic accessory device"), here's a helpful diagram.
The completed computer is called a "cooperative electronic assembly" and would, in essence, act like a notebook, with the phone or tablet providing the processing grunt. However, the patent also allows for the chassis to house its own "extended functionality":
In various embodiments, the electronic accessory device can be considered a "thin" device, in that it extends the functionality of another device but is inoperable by itself as a stand-alone device. As such, the accessory device can have little or no independent processing resources in the form of a CPU or similar comprehensive processor. The accessory device, however, can provide auxiliary processing resources, such a graphical processing unit, or GPU, or other processing resources that can support the functions of the portable computing device.
Whether or not Apple actually puts the patent to use is up for debate, but if it was looking for a way to more tightly integrate its portable gadget and computer businesses, this is certainly one way to go about it.