On February 3, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals one of the next chapters for Apple's iPad. A future iPad, according to Apple, may include a built-in stand that could pivot to provide both landscape and portrait support while allowing the unit to be further angled just right for use with the iPad's virtual keyboard. The concept of the new advanced stand supports another recent Apple patent concerning added connectors for a future iPad. Apple's invention could technically eliminate the need for their current docking station.
The Need for a New Kind of Built-In Device-Stand
Various mechanisms have been used for supporting an object. Many objects are provided with a support mechanism that only allows the object to be supported in a single configuration. For objects having a display, the need for a support mechanism adapted to support the object in multiple configurations may be significant. As the market for consumer electronic devices continues to explode, consumers are seeking electronic devices, such as, for example, computers, for which they can have improved display orientations that meet their needs.
Support mechanisms may also be used to generate consumer interest in the product and the brand of the company who produces the product. For example, consumers of some electronic devices tend to be discriminating and savvy, and may choose a product having unique and sleek support mechanisms befitting the underlying technology of the product itself. Accordingly, there is a continuing need for support mechanisms for objects that allow for improved support configurations or that may provide a pleasing aesthetic appearance.
Overview of Apple's Device-Stand Solution
Technically speaking, Apple's invention relates to a support mechanism for supporting an object on a surface. The support mechanism includes a joint connectable to the object; and a stand connectable to the joint. The joint may selectively rotate to allow the stand to support the object on the surface in: a first position comprising a landscape orientation at a first angle between the object and the surface, a second position comprising a landscape orientation at a second angle between the object and the surface, a third position comprising a portrait orientation at a third angle between the object and the surface, and a fourth position comprising a portrait orientation at a fourth angle between the object and the surface. The joint may comprise a socket connected to the object, a ball, and a linking member connected to the ball.
The "object" noted in the patent's introduction is primarily an iPad or "tablet computer and/or "slate computer" as phrased by the patent. However, in the big picture, Apple opens the door to other types of future devices that could incorporate such an advanced device stand. They include the iPhone, television, photograph display device, gaming device, projector – and even as part of some kind of detachable display in respect to a future notebook.
In another embodiment, Apple's invention relates to a support unit for supporting an object on a surface. The support unit includes a housing that's connectable to the object; a joint disposed at least partially within the housing; and a stand operatively connected to the joint for supporting the object on a surface. The support unit may include a linking member connecting the joint to the housing. The stand is adapted to support the object in a portrait support orientation at a first support angle greater than about 45 degrees between the object, a portrait support orientation at a second support angle less than about 45 degrees between the object and the surface, a landscape support orientation at a third support angle greater than about 45 degrees between the object and the surface, and a landscape support orientation at a fourth support angle less than about 45 degrees between the object and the surface.
The Proposed iPad Stand in Two Modes
In the noted Patent Figures above we see Apple's proposed built-in stand for the iPad in portrait and landscape modes. Furthermore, the landscape mode could provide a steeper incline to support a virtual keyboard mode that would be comfortable for the user to use in extended periods of time. An Incline similar to the one proposed for a future iMac-Touch.
The device stand may be built-in or sold separately. The patent states that "support unit 30 may be sold separately." Apple states that the stand could use a screw-in mechanism or other means such as magnets, adhesives, suction cups, locking means, latching means, or other suitable means.
The Socket Design
The proposed stand may be made of metal, such as, for example, stainless steel. Other materials for the stand 100, including, but not limited to, plastic or other suitably durable material may be used.
The socket (212) may be formed as part of the housing of the stand or, alternatively, may be a discrete component within the housing. In one embodiment, in order to facilitate relative motion between the ball (210) and socket, these components may be made of one or more suitably low-friction materials, including, but not limited to, ceramic, plastic, steel, aluminum, and the like. In one embodiment, the ball may be made of plastic and the socket may be made of ceramic. In one embodiment, the ball and/or the socket may be coated with a low-friction polymer material, such as, for example, Teflon or the like.
Rotation and Pivoting Mechanisms
In Apple's patent FIGS. 29 and 30 shown below, Apple states that the joint (420) may comprise a linkage assembly (440) pivotally connected to the stand and operatively connected to a linkage base (444), which is adapted to rotate within a housing (454). By rotating the linkage base and pivoting the linkage assembly, the stand may be rotated and pivoted through a plurality of positions and may define the position (e.g., angle and orientation) at which the object/device is supported.
In respect to Patent FIG. 31 below, Apple states that "as the user rotates the stand, and, correspondingly, the cam follower (449) within the cam track (450), the user may "feel" when follower reaches a notch (451). As such, each notch may further provide a tactile feature such that it facilitates the user finding a particular support position. In an alternative embodiment, the notch 451 may be formed in the cam follower 449 and a spring-loaded protrusion may be formed in the cam track at each support position. The protrusion may be formed such that the cam follower is secured at each protrusion as it rotates about the cam track. In still another embodiment, the cam follower may be spring-loaded to further engage each notch and become locked into position.
Random Built-In Stand Patent Figures
Below you'll find a random selection of patent figures associated with this invention should you wish to look further into the mechanism's minutia. With that said, in patent figure 25, Apple states the recess (110) may be sized and shaped appropriately to receive the stand (100) and allow the stand to be flush with the object (iPad) when the stand is in the closed position so as to provide an aesthetically uniform appearance. In this manner, the object also may be more easily stored or transported.
Apple credits Stephen McClure and Joshua Banko as the inventors of patent application 20110025176, originally filed in Q3 2009.
Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today
Smarter Playlists: One of the other minor yet interesting patent applications published today involves the next level for smart playlists. However, I found it difficult to distinguish from Apple's current Genius playlist feature - Though it appears to be more integrated with the iTunes Store so that you when you're finished creating your playlist, you could use this new cluster-media feature at the iTunes Store to see if they have suggestions that could provide some new depth to your playlist. That's nothing that interests me, but I could see this being of benefit to music newbies who would appreciate a "bigger picture" perspective on a given genre.
On the other hand, Apple's Patent FIG. 7 noted above, illustrates different levels (0,1 and 2) of a playlist which could actually be reflecting and supporting their futuristic iTunes Spiral concept revealed and detailed in their September and December patents.
If this patent interests you, then check out Apple's patent 20110029928 covering cluster-based medial playlists.
Bluetooth Headset: In another Apple patent published today, we see Apple's old Bluetooth headset patent. Whether this is just a meaningless technical patent process for a dead patent or it's Apple actually toying about taking another shot at this accessory isn't known. Though I suspect the former. Still, if you want to check it out, it's patent 20110028041.
To see any of these patents, simply feed the patent numbers into this search engine.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. Patents shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple patents represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Community Sites Covering our Original Report:
MacSurfer, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, 9 to 5 Mac, SlashGear, Apfel Zone Austria, Thaimac-update Thailand, ActualidadiPad Spanish, iPhoneHellas Greece, TUAW, iMag Ukraine, Macworld-UK, AccessoWeb France, Beszeljukmac Hungary, i-ekb Russia, GizmoCrunch, i-Mag Russia, Samachar Express, Online News, Computerworld Norway (English), MacTechNews Germany, TiPb, Know Your Mobile UK, Le Blog iPhone France, iPadguide Denmark, Macworld Australia, MacKozer Poland, VIPad France, iPadguide Denmark, Macken Sweden, Flo's Weblog Germany, Pad Gadget, Allt om Mac Sweden, iPhone2Go Russia, iPad Fan, and more.
Great News: Late yesterday (Feb. 4, 2011) the LA Times reported that the FDA approved an image diagnostic app for Apple devices. We covered this important area of technology in our March 2010 report focusing on Body Area Networks. In that report we presented a few videos from the Foothills Medical Center's Stroke Unit in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where this technology is already in use with iPhones.