Those seeking to divine the future directions of hardware makers have a reliable friend in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Public documents posted on the USPTO Web site regularly inform bloggers and techies of upcoming developments from tight-lipped companies such as Apple (like its recent filing about laptops with bottom-loading optical drives).
"One aspect of the enclosure pertains to enclosure parts that are structurally bonded together to form a singular composite structure. In one embodiment, structural glue is used to bond at least two unique parts together. Another aspect of the enclosure pertains to enclosure parts that are electrically bonded together to form a singular integrated conductive member. In one embodiment, conductive paste is used to bond at least two unique parts together. The improved enclosure is particularly useful in portable computing devices such as laptop computers."
In plain (or at least plainer) English, that means that Apple thinks it can make lighter, stronger laptop shells by bonding parts together, rather than using screws or rivets. The filing explains, "In recent years portable computers have become thin, light and powerful." This, naturally, leads to "two conflicting design goals--the desirability of making the enclosure lighter and thinner, and the desirability of making the enclosure stronger and more rigid." Using a structural glue or conductive paste would, in theory, allow lighter shells that wouldn't be as susceptible to flexing, bowing, or cracking.
When will we see products coming off the assembly line with these new manufacturing techniques? Could be never--plenty of patent ideas go nowhere, or never make it to market, but if the Apple name is attached to it, you can be sure it'll be the subject of much speculation.