Future MacBook Pros could ditch the keyboard in favor of a big foldable screen

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) in an office on a desk
(Image credit: Future)

Apple is working on a 20-inch foldable display, one that could be the shape of a future MacBook Pro to come.

This is going by a report from Korean site The Elec (spotted by MacRumors) which asserts that industry sources reckon Apple has just kicked off development of the display, so we’re still in the very early stages of the project apparently. The initial prototype is based on a 20.25-inch OLED display from an unspecified South Korean supplier.

As The Elec points out, that puts it in the laptop-sized category, as when folded it would give the user a 15.3-inch screen, which would be well-suited to a MacBook Pro (it’d be 20.25 inches fully unfolded).

Don’t be thinking you might see this innovation anytime soon, though. According to the report, the target for production of such a 20-inch foldable is 2026 to 2027, so it’s still half a decade away from being realized. If Apple doesn’t abandon the idea during prototyping and testing, of course, which is the fate of a good number of potential pieces of hardware.

As the report also makes clear, it’s likely Apple would want to adopt OLED displays (rather than LCD) on MacBooks and iPads before this foldable arrives. The Elec believes 2025 will be the year that a MacBook Pro will arrive equipped with an OLED display, and that’ll be preceded by iPads with OLED in 2024 as has been previously rumored.

Analysis: You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…

For the uninitiated, a foldable laptop is one that is actually just a giant display that folds down the middle - like the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED we saw at IFA earlier this year. In other words, the keyboard section is omitted to double the size of the screen – and the display can then facilitate some kind of virtual keyboard for use as a laptop. But the screen can also be laid flat as one big display, or used as a full 20-inch monitor at a desk with a mouse and keyboard, adding a good deal of flexibility to the device.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about a foldable MacBook, either, and the rumor mill was talking about this possibility early in 2022. Indeed, that previous speculation was based on Apple mulling a 20-inch screen for this MacBook, with the arrival date pinned at either 2026 or 2027.

So this latest report mirrors that exactly and lends further weight to it, but as always, we should be very skeptical about anything piped over the grapevine. Even if this is true right now, Apple may well shelve the project at some point in the future, particularly given the very long development timeframe which is floated here.

Five years is absolutely ages in the tech world, but then again, the theoretical launch being that far in the future might be a good thing – at least in terms of the mechanical side of a huge folding screen getting worked out in a better fashion. We’ve always been cautious around foldables, and certainly seamless foldables which aren’t just two screens (with a very thin bezel between), but given a good amount of time for tech advances to take hold, maybe Apple could produce a really slick and well-designed foldable MacBook Pro. (Let’s just try not to think about past innovations which haven’t panned out so well, like, say, the butterfly keyboard).

The broader question might be – do we even want a foldable MacBook Pro? Here at TechRadar we’ve argued in the past that this seems a rather daft idea for various reasons, not the least of which is that any virtual keyboard is going to be a very much inferior typing experience to a physical deck. Then again, maybe haptics will advance a long way in half a decade, but this all seems like something of a longshot in terms of the rumor being realized.

Still, you never know, and with this speculation now popping up twice this year, perhaps the foldable MacBook Pro really is a concept Apple is seriously evaluating for the future.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).