Last May Apple first introduced a new patent application for an iPhone and iPod dock designed to support their new lightning port. Today, the U.S. Patent Office published one of Apple's patent applications that reveal their possible new dock may also come equipped with a new flexible lightning connector base that is more durable and easier to use. Here's to hoping that Apple will be able to not only design this new dock but also get it out to market soon. Not everything has to take forever. Apple introduced their lighting port with the iPhone 5 back in 2012 and they should have had a new dock available at that time. Then again, perhaps Apple is still waiting to see how the European consumer protection committee will rule before committing to this product. Only time will tell. Update March 14, 2014: Europe Parliament rules for common charger using micro-USB.
Apple's Patent Background
The present invention relates to a docking station for an electronic device. More particularly, the present invention relates to a docking station having a compliant connector mount with improved durability and flexibility.
Portable electronic devices (such as phones, media players, notebook/netbook computers, tablet computers) are becoming ubiquitous in today's society. Portable electronic devices commonly have display screens (e.g. a touch screen) on which users view and/or select data and functionality. For example, a user may select a video or other presentation to watch. In such circumstances, it is often more convenient for the user to have the device in an upright (viewable) position by placing the device in some sort of holder so that the user is not required to hold the device during viewing.
Additionally, users may wish to interface the display devices with other electronics, for example, playing music through speakers or simply charging the device. However, during such interfacing or charging, the user may still want to view the display and/or controls of the device.
To provide such features and capability, manufacturers provide docking stations or docks in which a user can plug or mount the device. Often the docks will have a connector rising from a surface in a position so that the device can be viewed and/or used when connected. However, the connectors can be weak points, especially when devices become large and heavy, placing additional stresses on the connector, particularly in connectors of relatively small size. The connector may also provide most of the support of the device. Accordingly, the connectors of such docking stations can be damaged by misuse, e.g. being pulled in improper direction.
Apple Invents a Dock with a new Flexible Lightning Connector Mechanism
Apple's invention generally relates to a docking station having a connector with a compliance mechanism that is more flexible and durable than conventional docks connectors.
Some embodiments allow the connector to move relative the dock base when connected to a portable electronic device. This movement of the connector can absorb undesirable forces, thereby reducing a likelihood of the connector breaking from misuse Examples of compliant movement include sliding, translation, flexures, rotation, sliding, rolling, pivoting and/or some combination thereof.
For example, in some embodiments, if a mounted portable electronic device is manually pushed forward, the connector can rotate or pivot within the dock, thereby reducing the likelihood of breakage from such a push.
In one aspect, the invention provides a compliance mechanism configured to flex when the connector is stressed so as to pivot the connector at a pivot point near where the connector protrudes from the dock housing.
In some embodiments, the dock may be configured so that flexure or compression of a compliance mechanism pivots the connector about a pivot point at or near where the connector protrudes from the dock housing. The connector may interface with a feature on the dock housing at the pivot point location to control the pivoting movement or the compliance mechanism may be configured to combine compliant movements so that the connector pivots at the pivot point without attachment at the pivot point location.
The compliance mechanism may be configured to provide the connector with sufficient rigidity to support a portable device when mounted on the connector within the dock in an upright position, sufficient flexibility to allow angular displacement of a mounted portable device and sufficient elasticity to provide a resilient biasing force to return a mounted portable device from a displaced position to the upright position.
The compliant movement may be configured to provide controlled movement within a desired range of movement along one or more directions. For example, the compliant movement may allow a portable device mounted on the connector to tilt forward from a non-stressed mounted plane with increasing resistance to a displaced plane at a maximum angular displacement within a range of 90 degrees or less, or in some embodiments, 45 degrees to 10 degrees.
The compliant movement may also be configured to distribute and absorb stresses associated with displacement of the connector, thereby reducing the likelihood of damage to the devices or associated connectors. It is appreciated that compliant movement may include pivoting movement about a pivot point at a relatively fixed location or at a location that moves during the compliant movement, particularly in a compliance mechanism that includes a combination of compliant movements.
Apple credits Michael Webb, Ian Colahan and Paul Thompson as the inventors of patent application 20140069710 which was originally filed in Q1 2013.
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