Best Of Both Worlds: The MacPad

Despite a growing demand for laptop-tablet hybrid computers from producers like Lenovo, HP, and Microsoft, Apple has been stubbornly withdrawn this arena despite having arguably the best hardware and user experiences within the separate domains of laptop and tablet. Charitably one could speculate that this is because Apple’s design philosophy mandates keeping the user experiences of each separate, although a more cynical take might be that they can sell more products if they don’t put all the features their users want into a single device. Either way, for now it seems that if you want a touchscreen MacBook you’ll have to build one yourself like the MacPad from [Federico].

This project started as simply providing a high-quality keyboard and mouse for an Apple Vision Pro, whose internal augmented reality keyboard is really only up to the task of occasionally inputting a password or short string. For more regular computing, [Federico] grabbed a headless MacBook which had its screen removed. This worked well enough that it triggered another line of thought that if it worked for the Vision Pro it might just work for an iPad Pro as well. Using Apple tools like Sidecar makes this almost trivially easy from a software perspective, although setting up the iPad as the only screen, rather than an auxiliary screen, on the MacBook did take a little more customization than normal.

The build goes beyond the software side of setting this up, though. It also includes a custom magnetic mount so that the iPad can be removed at will from the MacBook, freeing both the iPad for times when a tablet is the better tool and the MacBook for when it needs to pull keyboard duty for the Vision Pro. Perhaps the only downsides are that this only works seamlessly when both devices are connected to the same wireless network and that setting up a headless MacBook without a built-in screen takes a bit of extra effort. But with everything online and working it’s nearly the perfect Apple 2-in-1 that users keep asking for. If you’re concerned about the cost of paying for an iPad Pro and a Macbook just to get a touchscreen, though, take a look at this device which adds a touchscreen for only about a dollar.

Thanks to [Stuart] for the tip!

Why The IPad Doesn’t Have A Calculator

For the handful among us who have an iPad tablet from Apple, some may have figured out by now that it lacks a feature that has come standard on any operating system since roughly the early 90s: a calculator application. Its absence on the iPad’s iPadOS is strange since the iPhones (iOS) have always had a calculator application built into the system.  Even Apple’s laptop and desktop systems (MacOS/OS X/MacOS) include a calculator.  As [Greg] at [Apple Explained] explains in a 2021 video, this seems to have been initially due to Steve Jobs, who didn’t like the scaled-up iOS calculator that the person in charge of iPad software development – [Scott Forstal] – was working on and set an ultimatum to replace or drop it.

In the video, [Greg] shows sections of an interview with Apple software chief [Craig Federighi], who when confronted with the question of why iPadOS doesn’t have a calculator or weather app, quickly slithers out of the way of the incoming question. He excuses the absence with the idea that Apple won’t do anything unless it makes people go ‘wow’ when they use it. Fast-forward two years, and iPadOS 17 still doesn’t have a version of the Apple Calculator app, making for rich meme fodder. One question that gets raised by some is whether Apple really needs to make such an app at all since you can use Spotlight and Siri to get calculations resolved, in the latter case, using the apparently hidden Calculator app.

These days, you can use Google Search as a calculator, too, with it even throwing up a calculator UI when you ask it to perform a calculation, and the App Store is full of various calculator apps, with or without advertising and/or paid features. In this context, what could Apple do with a calculator that would positively ‘wow’ its users?

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Removing The Air Gap From An IPad Display

Some recent models of the Apple iPad have a rather annoying air gap in between the display and the outer touch surface. This can be particularly frustrating for users that press hard or use the Apple Pencil regularly. It is possible to eliminate this gap in the iPad 9, at least, as demonstrated by [serg1us_eng]. (Warning: TikTok)

Doing the job well takes some finesse, however, and plenty of fancy equipment. The iPad’s front touch glass was first covered to avoid scratches during the work, and then heated to 60 C to remove it. The display was also removed, with several glued-down ribbon cables having to be carefully pried off to avoid damage. A layer of transparent material was then cut to size to fit in the gap between the display and the front glass, with the stack laminated together. Getting this result without air bubbles or dust particles spoiling the result involved the use of a heated press and a clean room, which are now widely used in phone repair shops around the world.

For the average user, it might not be a big deal. For power users and touch-and-feel fanatics, though, there’s great appeal in an iPad without this annoying flaw. Video after the break.

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Building A Charging Holder For The Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil is a neat tool for digital creativity, but the user experience is a bit blah when it comes to charging. You either have to plug it into an iPhone or iPad directly, or an iPhone charger using a special adapter. It’s a bit below Apple’s usual seamless best. [Handy Bear] got around this fuss by building their own Apple Pencil dock.

The concept is simple. At its heart, it’s not dissimilar from a regular pen holder. It consists of a 3D printed round base filled with quick cement for heft. The base weighs almost a pound, and has a cork base so it sits nicely on a desk. A Lightning charge cable is fed into the base of the device, with the Apple Pencil adapter permanently fitted. All one has to do is remove the cap from the Apple Pencil, slot it into the adapter, and place the cap in the storage hole provided. The base then keeps the device charged, upright, and ready for use.

It’s not a complicated build, but it solves a fundamental problem with the Apple Pencil. It’s hard to imagine fancy-schmancy creatives are leaving these things just floating around on their desks with cables going everywhere; you’d think Apple would be selling a $99 dock for these by now. Instead, it’s up to the DIYers and the aftermarket.

You might also consider some high-end mods to your Apple Pencil for greater finesse.

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Motherboard on the desk, with a CM4 plugged into it, and all kinds of wires connected to it for purposes of debugging

Hackaday Prize 2022: A CM4 Upgrade For Your Old IPad

There’s no shortage of nicely built tablets out there, but unfortunately many of them are powered by what are by now severely outdated motherboards. Since manufacturers releasing replacement motherboards for their old hardware doesn’t look like its likely to be common practice anytime soon, the community will have to take things into their own hands. This is where [Evan]’s project comes in — designing a Raspberry Pi CM4-powered motherboard for the original iPad. It aims to have support for everything you’d expect: display, touchscreen, audio, WiFi, Bluetooth, and even the dock port. Plus it gives you way more computing power to make use of it all.

Testing part fitment with some cardboard CAD.

The original iPad got a lot of things right, a factor definitely contributing to its success back when it was released. [Evan]’s high-effort retrofit works with the iPad’s plentiful good parts, like its solid shell, tailored lithium-ion battery, eye-friendly LCD, and reliable capacitive touchscreen. You’d have to fit the new motherboard inside the space available after these parts all come together, and [Evan] has shaped his PCBs to do exactly that – with room for CM4, and the numerous ICs he’s added so as to leave no function un-implemented.

This project has been underway for over a year, and currently, there’s fourteen information-dense worklogs telling this retrofit’s story. Reverse-engineering the capacitive touchscreen and the LCD, making breakouts for all the custom connectors, integrating a custom audio codec, debugging device tree problems, unconventional ways to access QFN pins left unconnected on accident, and the extensive power management design journey. [Evan] has a lot to teach for anyone looking to bring their old tablet up to date!

The hardware files are open-source, paving the way for others to reuse parts for their own retrofits, and we absolutely would like to see more rebuilds like this one. This project is part of the Hack it Back round of the 2022 Hackaday Prize, and looks like a perfect fit to us. If you were looking for an excuse to start a similar project, now is the time.

Desktop Performance In A Custom Mac Laptop

Most of us either own or have used a laptop at some point. For traveling, as a student, or even for browsing Hackaday on the couch in front of the TV, they are pretty much indispensable. They do tend to have a sharp performance reduction compared to a desktop though thanks to the thermal and battery limitations of a portable form factor. [Scott Yu-Jan] wanted to solve that in his own life by building a custom Mac laptop with none of these downsides.

Noticing that a modern iPad Mini has exactly the same width of his Mac Mini, [Scott] set about combining the two devices into a single unit that he could assemble when traveling. A 3D printed case with a traditional laptop clamshell design takes care of physically combining these two devices, and a USB-C cable between the two takes care of combining them in software thanks to Apple’s Duet program. While this has better performance than a Macbook Pro it might actually have some perks, since Apple continues to refuse to make a laptop with a touchscreen.

There are some downsides, of course. The price is higher than a comparable Macbook Pro for the iPad and Mac together, plus it doesn’t include a keyboard or mouse. It also has no battery, so it needs to be plugged in. In the follow-up video linked below, though, [Scott] notes that for him this still made sense as he uses the Mac and iPad individually already, and only works remotely at places that have power outlets readily available. For the average person, though, we might recommend something different if you really need an esoteric laptop-like machine.

Thanks to [Varun] for originally sending in this tip!

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Digital Painting On An IPad With Real Brushes

Drawing tablets are a great way to make digital art, and iPads and other tablets are similarly popular in this area. However, they all typically involve using some sort of special stylus for input. [Richard Greene] developed another method, with Light Strokes for the iPad letting one “paint” with real paint brushes instead!

The system uses a Fresnel prism in view of the iPad’s camera. This allows the camera to see only the parts of a paint brush, sponge, or other implement, as they make contact with the surface of the prism itself. This is via the principle known as total internal reflection.

Thus, simply wetting a paintbrush, sponge, or even a finger, allows one to paint quite authentically on the surface of the prism. The corresponding Light Strokes app on the iPad turns this into the pretty pixels of your creation. The app also allows one to experiment with all manner of fancy brush effects, too.

The build requires some finesse, with the lamination of the special Fresnel film onto glass using liquid optically clear adhesive, or LOCA. A series of mirrors are then assembled in an enclosure, allowing the iPad to be mounted with the camera having a good view of the glass painting area.

The project takes advantage of a simple physical effect in order to create a great artistic tool. Alternatively, if you prefer to draw directly, consider whipping up your own screen-based drawing tablet. Video after the break.

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