On May 01, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new docking station concept that is designed to incorporate a more durable and self-retracting connector that can accommodate iDevices small and large.
Apple's Patent Background
Portable electronic devices (such as phones, media players, notebook/netbook computers, tablet computers) are becoming ubiquitous. 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 more convenient for the user to have the device in an upright (viewable) position by placing the device in some sort of holder so the user is not forced to hold the device during viewing.
Additionally, users would like to interface the display devices with other electronics. For example, a user may want to play music through speakers, or simply charge the device. However, during such interfacing or charging, the user would still like to be able to view the display and/or controls of the device.
To provide such features, manufacturers provide docking stations (docks) in which a user can dock a device. Often the docks will have a connector rising out from an opening, with the connector being in a position such that the device can be viewed and/or used when connected therewith.
However, connectors can be weak points, especially when devices become large like the iPad and additional stresses are placed on the connector. The connector may also provide most of the support for the device. Accordingly, the connectors of such docking stations can be damaged by misuse, e.g. being pulled in an improper direction.
Some currently available docks include a rotating connector that rotates instead of breaking when stresses are applied to the connector. However, in order to accommodate rotating connectors, such docks often include a large, unsightly opening through which the connector or other unsightly features for accommodating the rotating connector may extend.
The unsightliness of these openings may result from large gap(s) between the bounds or sidewalls of the opening station and the connector rising out of the opening. Furthermore, many docking stations with rotating connectors still have room for improvement in terms of manufacturability and convenience in disconnecting from corresponding portable electronic devices.
Apple Invents Docking Station with Self-Retracting Connector
Apple invents a docking station for an electronic device having a durable self-retracting connector.
Some embodiments allow a plug connector to move while connected to a portable electronic device. This movement of the connector can absorb undesirable forces, thereby reducing the likelihood of the connector breaking from misuse.
In one example, if the connected portable electronic device is pushed forward and applies a torque to the plug connector of the docking station, the plug connector can rotate and retract into an opening of the docking station housing, thereby reducing the likelihood of breakage from such a push. The retracting motion can also aid in disconnecting the plug connector from the device, and thus can help prevent the torque from further acting on the plug connector.
Additionally, the movable plug connector may be biased with a biasing element to return the plug connector to its original position after rotating and retracting or extending in response to an applied torque.
Apple's patent FIG. 1A depicts an illustrative rendering of one particular portable electronic device; FIG. 1B is a side view of a docking station according to the present invention mated with the device of FIG. 1A.
Apple further states that when a device is connected with the plug connector in the original position, the portable electronic device may be positioned in an upright position such that the electronic device is supported by a resting surface of the docking station, thereby preventing undue strain on the plug connector in the upright position. The biasing mechanism can act by opposing forward movement of the plug connector to keep the electronic device in a position to be supported by the rear reference surface. The plug connector may be partly below and partly above an exterior surface of the docking station through part of or all of the plug connector's full range of motion.
The opening in the docking station that accommodates the plug connector's full range of motion may only be slightly larger than the plug connector. This may be possible because a retraction mechanism of the docking station may produce a range of motion for the plug connector that does not require as large of an opening as required by typical docking stations. Hence, unsightly gaps between the docking station opening and the plug connector may be reduced in order to maintain the cosmetic appearance of the docking station.
Apple's patent FIGS. 3A and 3B noted above illustrate cross-sectional views of a docking station with a portable electronic device docked in it. Apple's patent FIG. 3A shows a plug connector of the docking station in a retracted position and connected with the device. FIG. 3B shows the plug connector in an extended position and nearly disconnected from the device.
Apple's patent FIG. 2C illustrates a perspective view of the retraction mechanism of FIGS. 3A and 3B.
Apple's patent FIG. 2D shows a magnified perspective view of the retraction mechanism of FIGS. 3A and 3B.
Apple credits Craig Stanley as the sole inventor of patent application 20140118923 which was originally filed in Q4 2012. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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