Will Apple's next iPad gambit be a Smart Cover with an additional display?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 2, 2012

Ever since Microsoft canceled the Courier project in early 2010, the two-screen tablet concept has become a unicorn of the gadget world. Sony attempted it with its Tablet P, but was only met with limited success. But as tablets quickly become a common household item for an ever-growing number of families, more and more tablet makers are becoming more daring and creative with their developments.

In November of last year, I suggested the perfect manufacturer to push the dual-screen tablet concept is ASUS. With their very first Android-powered tablet, they were willing to break a few boundaries and innovate something new and different – at least in the modern tablet sector. A detachable keyboard for the relatively affordable Eee Pad Transformer tablet was enough to pique the interests of enough individuals to keep the tablet out of stock for months after its initial release. Then followed the Padfone concept, in which a smartphone can be docked in a tablet-like terminal that only consists of a battery pack and a touchscreen display.

I explained that merging these two peripherals – the external display and detachable keyboard – to create a single attachment would be groundbreaking. A typical tablet with an add-on keyboard or display? Brilliant.

Alas, ASUS has yet to come up with anything to that effect. My fingers are still crossed, though, as ASUS will have to think of something new now that Microsoft is trampling their originality with Surface and the add-on Touch Covers and Type Covers.

As far as dreams of dual-screen tablets go, however, something could be in the pipeline – and we're hoping it is. Just under one year ago, Apple filed for yet another patent with the US Patent & Trademark Office. Today, that patent application was made public by the USPTO, revealing a clever trick Apple has up its sleeve. The idea is a Smart Cover that doubles as an additional, flexible display. Powered by dedicated contacts on the side of the iPad itself, the cover could display a surplus of information without interfering with the users' content and significantly enhancing the experience.

The possibilities with a smart peripheral of this caliber stretch far and wide. The secondary screen could display any overflow information, such as notifications, recent applications or, as one of the attached drawings suggests, media controls. The patent also suggests the additional display could make for an on-screen keyboard attachment, not unlike the Microsoft Surface Touch Cover, freeing up ample display space and greatly adding to the productivity value of the iPad.

I've been infatuated by multi-screen mobile gadgets since first hearing about the Courier. Each subsequent rumor and multi-display gadget concept has only grown my anticipation for a tablet or smartphone with multiple displays. (For clarity, I ignore the existence of the Sony Tablet P and Kyocera Echo.) Apple's patent application is, for the most part, exactly what I have had in mind.

As most of you know by now, I'm a tablet fiend. I use my iPad for quite literally anything and everything I can, and the Nexus 7 has become quite the entertainment machine. The ability to freely add and remove a display to a mobile device isn't exactly novel – you can easily plug your mobile devices into an external monitor with literally no qualms. But the value of something to this degree is the level of customization and optimization that would come along with an add-on display that has been made specifically for the iPad. It's not just another touchscreen display, it can be one of many things. Most importantly, it could be a very useful tool. For me, an add-on display for on-screen typing would be a very welcomed addition.

My only concern is that this would be Apple-made and wouldn't come cheap. Their current crop of Smart Covers, which are Tjust a thin, flexible piece of polyurethane, a metal spine and a few magnets, run $40. Smart Cases, which are the same idea with a plastic case enclosing the back are $50. I can't even begin to imagine what Apple would charge for something like this with a flexible display. $150? $200? I honestly wouldn't be surprised it it carried a price tag even larger than that.

Hey, one can dream, though. Here's to hoping Apple actually pursues this technology and doesn't just sit on this patent if and when it's granted. And here's to hoping we won't have to surrender our first born to get our hands on one.

What say you, ladies and gents? Would you be interested in a Smart Cover for your iPad that has an embedded display? What benefits do you imagine it would have? Or will it be too expensive and fragile to be feasible?

Images via USPTO

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