Mobile has been in a rut. Whether you're talking about smartphones, tablets, or even laptops, the basics have been set for years. You get whatever model of a device you want, picking from the set of options presented, and then depend on software to make things work the way you want.

But what if you had far more choices about the hardware than previously possible? Get things to work the way want and you might become more productive. Maybe you could put together a solution that worked perfectly for you, rather than one that more or less made due.

Apple's MacBook without a keyboard

New possibilities are coming quickly. Apple filed a patent for a MacBook without a keyboard. At least, it won't have the usual type of hardware keyboard with defined keys.

Instead a "force-sensitive input structure for an electronic device" accepts pressure input wherever you press on what looks like a giant touchpad. Rather than physically depressing keys, you tap the surface and get haptic feedback.

But this concept is so much more. The keys wouldn't be printed on the surface. Instead, "micro-perforations or holes" would let backlighting show the key outlines and their symbols. The entire keyboard could be user-configurable. Want a keypad on the right and alphanumerics on the left? No problem. Wait, get that backwards? Just switch it around. Break keys into two groups and have them incline toward each other like a ergonomic keyboard? No problem.

It's not in production, but this is such a cool concept that one can hope Apple will bring it to market.

Modular mobile

Then there's Google's Project Ara, which is supposed to hit the market this year after some difficulties. The phone will be an open platform phone with a modular structure that will allow users to swap parts at will.

That is an exciting thought. Want a better camera than what came with your phone? Buy a new compatible one and swap them. Upgrade the speakers, get the next evolution of screen resolution, or add a projector of laser pointer.

This would be an ability that has been limited to Window-type PCs where you can add memory, swap video cards, and include other capabilities -- if you know what you're doing.

A modular design will turn mobile hardware development upside down. You could piece together what you want. The approach will also put a spike through the idea that you have to either settle for what the big manufacturers offer through retailers and carriers. Smaller development companies will be able to get to market using standards-based frameworks, much like PCs, letting the innovation run free.

Changes like the ones Google and Apple are moving in directions that could reinvigorate mobile computing, just when things started to seem predictable. Here's to the future.