The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 20 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. Our first granted report of the day only covers a single major patent victory of Apple's which covers how they intend to integrating cellular antennas under the keys of both MacBooks and wireless keyboards like that used for the iMac. That revelation of cellular capabilities coming to an iMac is an eye-opener by itself. This is Apple's fourth cellular based MacBook related patent in just the last year and the second which covers hiding the cellular antenna. While we don't know which combination of technologies Apple will use to bring cellular capabilities to both the MacBook and iMac at this time, the important point is that Apple is determined to bring such capabilities to market in the not-too-distant future.
Integrating Cellular Antennas into MacBook & Desktop Keyboards
Apple has been granted their second major patent win for integrating cellular antennas into future MacBook and desktop keyboards. Their first win for cellular antennas for MacBooks was granted in September 2010. In this granted patent, Apple details how the antennas will be incorporated into the keyboard and under keyboard keys. Adding this to a desktop keyboard is very interesting news and points to yet another possible first for Apple in the months or years ahead.
A MacBook and/or wireless desktop keyboards that may have key antennas are illustrated in Apple's patent FIG. 2 Below. The keyboards may handle communications over one or more communications bands such as the 2.4 GHz band that is sometimes used for Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) and Bluetooth communications, the 5.0 GHz band that is sometimes used for Wi-Fi communications, the 1575 MHz Global Positioning System band, and 3G data bands (e.g., the UMTS band at 1920-2170).
These bands may be covered by using single band and multiband antennas. For example, cellular telephone communications could be handled using a multiband cellular telephone antenna and local area network data communications could be handled using a multiband wireless local area network antenna.
As another example, device 10 may have a single multiband antenna for handling communications in two or more data bands (e.g., at 2.4 GHz and at 5.0 GHz).
Apple's patent FIG. 3 shown below shows an illustrative wireless keyboard associated with desktop computers such as the iMac.
The antenna structures and wireless communications devices of device 10 may support communications over any suitable wireless communications bands. For example, wireless communications devices 44 may be used to cover communications frequency bands such as the cellular telephone bands at 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 1900 MHz, data service bands such as the 3G data communications band at 2100 MHz (commonly referred to as UMTS or Universal Mobile Telecommunications System), Wi-Fi.RTM. (IEEE 802.11) bands at frequencies such as 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz (also sometimes referred to as wireless local area network or WLAN bands), the Bluetooth band at 2.4 GHz, and the global positioning system (GPS) band at 1575 MHz. Device 10 could cover these communications bands and/or other suitable communications bands with proper configuration of the antenna structures in wireless communications circuitry 44.
The Antennas are hidden under in Keyboard Keys
An illustrative key antenna that may be a part of a MacBook or wireless iMac keyboard is shown in FIG. 5. Antenna structure 24 may be integrated into the structure of a key that is part of a keyboard in device 10 (as an example).
Antenna structure 24 may exhibit improved transmission and reception efficiencies when the antenna structure is located away from the conductive housing of device 10 (e.g., when the key is not being pressed by a user). In this extended position, the antenna's performance may be enhanced by the increase in separation (e.g., compared to the position when the key is pressed) between an antenna resonating element in the antenna and the ground plane of the metal housing of the electronic device.
Antenna structure 24 may have a keycap such as keycap 62 that includes a representation of a key. For example, the keycap may have a representation such as "Fn", "A", "Tab" "Alt", "Ctrl", or any other key that may be represented in a keyboard or other keypad of an electronic device. With one suitable arrangement, the antenna structure may be integrated into a key that is not commonly pressed by a user of device 10 such as the print screen key. The patent's admission of a "print screen key" is interesting as this is a known PC feature and not one that I'm aware of on an iMac Keyboard.
In another example, when the keyboard is using a first key antenna for wireless communications, control circuitry 96 may select a second key antenna when the first key antenna is pressed.
As shown in patent FIG. 7 above, key antenna 24 may have a spirally wrapped antenna resonating element. For example, antenna resonating element 54 may be spirally wrapped and affixed to the bottom of a keycap of the key antenna. With another suitable arrangement, the antenna resonating element may be spirally wrapped and integrated into the structure of the keycap of the key antenna. For example, the antenna resonating element may be formed from a spirally wrapped wire that is embedded in the plastic of keycap 62. Portion 79 may represent a translucent section of the keycap that is lit by light 78 to indicate information about device 10 to a user (e.g., whether caps lock is active).
Real-Time Information to Activate the Key based Antennas
Apple's patent FIG. 11 shown bellow shows illustrative steps involved in using an electronic device that utilizes real-time information to select which of multiple key antennas to use for wireless communications activities. The operations of FIG. 11 may be performed when the electronic device (e.g., device 10) is configured to use a diversity scheme to select a particular key antenna out of a plurality of key antennas for use in wireless communications activities. For example, electronic device 10 may use a diversity scheme in which the key antenna that has the strongest signal (e.g., the antenna that is receiving the strongest radio-frequency signal from another device) is used to transmit and receive radio-frequency signals.
Apple credits Chris Ligtenberg, Brett Degner and Douglas Kough as the inventors of Granted Patent 7,999,748. Other related patents include: one, two and three. For interest sake, also see a prototype of one such model using an external antenna.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of granted patents with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any Granted Patent should be read in its entirety for full details.
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Here are a Few Great Community Sites covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, The Houston Chronicle's TechBlog, Business Insider, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News, Planet Geek Portuguese, Aberto ate de Madrugada Portugal, Google Reader, UpgradeOSX, TechWatching, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, Seattle PI, CBS MarketWatch, Techmeme, MacRumors, Tidb, Love for Tech, Melamorsicata Italy, Mac4Ever France, Wired Gadget Lab, MacDailyNews, Arstechnica, PC INpact France, and more.