Apple Brilliantly Invents Display-Integrated Cellular Antennas
Since the summer of 2010 Patently Apple has been covering Apple's patent applications regarding a strong trend towards the development of a future MacBook with cellular-data capabilities. Just this past week, Patently Apple has discovered yet another new patent application on this subject in a filing that came to light in Europe earlier this year. This time around, Apple has brilliantly invented cellular antennas that could be integrated into a MacBook's Multi-Touch trackpad or directly into the display of an iOS device like an iPhone. That's important if Apple decides to design a future iPhone with a metal back. Now that the iPad offers 4G, the idea of the MacBook offering similar cellular-data capabilities sounds not only reasonable but inevitable.
Apple's Patent Background
Devices such cellular telephones, media players and hybrid devices are often provided with wireless communications capabilities. For example, electronic devices may use long-range wireless communications circuitry such as cellular telephone circuitry to communicate using cellular telephone bands at 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 1900 MHz (e.g., the main Global System for Mobile Communications or GSM cellular telephone bands). Long-range wireless communications circuitry may also handle the 2100 MHz band. Electronic devices may use short-range wireless communications links to handle communications with nearby equipment. For example, electronic devices may communicate using the WiFi (IEEE 802.11) bands at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz (sometimes referred to as local area network bands) and the Bluetooth band at 2.4 GHz.
Apple states that it could be difficult to incorporate antennas successfully into an electronic device. Some electronic devices are manufactured with small form factors, so space for antennas is limited. Antenna operation could also be blocked by intervening metal structures. This could make it difficult to implement an antenna in an electronic device that contains conductive display structures, conductive housing walls, or other conductive structures that can potentially block radio-frequency signals.
It would therefore be desirable to be able to provide improved antennas for wireless electronic devices.
Display-Integrated Cellular Antennas & Beyond
Apple's patent generally relates to electronic device antennas, and, more particularly, to antennas for electronic device display and touch panels. Electronic devices such as handheld electronic devices and other portable electronic devices may be provided with planar dielectric members. The planar dielectric members may be sheets of glass or plastic and may be used in forming structures such as touch pads and displays. The planar dielectric members may be provided with one or more antenna traces.
The antenna traces on the planar dielectric members may form antennas such as monopole antennas, dipole antennas, slot antennas, loop antennas, etc. An electronic device containing a planar dielectric member on which the antenna traces have been formed may contain radio-frequency transceiver circuitry. A radio-frequency signal path may be provided that couples the transceiver circuitry to the antenna traces. The radio-frequency signal path may include a coaxial cable transmission line, a flex circuit transmission line, and electrical connectors such as spring-loaded pins and springs.
A display or a touch panel may have a planar dielectric member with an active central area that is occupied with light-emitting structures and/or touch sensors. The planar dielectric member may also have an inactive region that is free of touch sensor electrodes and display structures (e.g., an inactive region without light-emitting structures such as backlit liquid crystal diode structures or light-emitting diode cells). The antenna traces may be formed in these inactive regions or may be formed within the active regions. For example, a loop antenna may be formed in the active portion of a touch panel by surrounding indium tin oxide sensor electrodes with an antenna trace.
The antenna traces may be formed from transparent conductive materials such as indium tin oxide or may be formed from conductive materials such as copper. An opaque layer may be interposed between the antenna traces and the interior surface of the planar dielectric layer. The opaque layer may be formed from structures that are opaque to visible light but that are transparent to radio-frequency signals. This allows the antenna traces under the opaque layer to function satisfactorily without being blocked by the presence of the opaque layer.
Applicable to a Future MacBook 4G & iOS Devices
Apple states that it may be advantageous to form an antenna for device 10 which could be any electronic device. In the graphic above we see device 10 being represented as both a MacBook and iPhone.
A part of components such as display 14 of the iPhone and touch pad 20 of the MacBook have exposed faces that are not covered by metal, so radio-frequency signals could be transmitted and received through these components, even when their respective housings be formed from conductive materials.
So as to minimize device volume and to avoid issues such as signal blocking by conductive housing walls, one or more antennas earlier described may be formed as part of a component such as display 14 and/or touch pad 20 that is not covered with signal blocking conductive structures. The antennas may, for example, be formed on the underside of a display panel or touch panel.
Antennas may be formed within region 40 or outside of the region enclosed by dashed line 30. For example, antenna traces may be formed on the underside of the touch screen panel 14 in peripheral regions 32, 34, 36, or 38.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted above provides us with a view of an illustrative display or touch panel having capacitive touch screen sensor structures and antenna structures based on monopole and loop antenna configurations. Apple's patent figures 9 to11are side views showing how components such as radio-frequency transceiver components may be electrically coupled to an antenna using various methods such as spring-loaded pins, springs and/or a flex circuit.
Patent Credits & Closing Thought
Apple's patent application was originally filed in late 2010 and published by the European Patent Office earlier this year.
Now that the iPad offers 4G, the idea of the MacBook offering similar cellular-data capabilities sounds not only reasonable but inevitable – in spite of patent naysayers. Intel's 2013 Ultrabook chipset that will include their next generation Haswell processor is already being marketed as the Ultrabook that will "always be connected." This is likely a direct reflection of Intel's acquisitions of Infineon and SySDSoft. Whether Apple will use this chipset or use their own is unknown at this time. Yet one thing is for sure, it's high time that cellular-data capabilities came to the MacBook and today's invention is just one more indication that it's likely on Apple's roadmap.
Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics 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 full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Sites Covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, MacDailyNews, iPhoneclub Netherlands, and more.