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Apple Invents a New Universal Connector that May be Lightning

1. Apple Invents a new Universal Connector that may be Lightning
On October 25, 2012, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new universal connector is on the way. Then again, it may already be with us via Apple's new Lighting connector. The illustration in our cover graphic illustrates that the head of the connector will have multiple openings just like today's Lightning connector. There's another major connection between Apple's description of the new connector and today's Lightning connector and our report lays that out. In April 2010 we pointed to Apple's patent covering a new mini tower in the works and Tim Cook confirmed that Apple will be updating the Mac Pro in Q4 2013. This is where this new universal connector will really shine. The new connector on the next generation Mac Pro will likely have a single universal port design that will cover everything from USB, HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt. In the end, there may be more to Apple's new Lightning connector than originally thought.


Apple's Patent Background


The number of types of electronic devices that are commercially available has increased tremendously the past few years, and the rate of introduction of these devices shows no signs of abating. Devices, such as tablet, laptop, netbook, desktop, and all-in-one computers, cell, smart, and media phones, storage devices, portable media players, navigation systems, monitors, and others, have become ubiquitous.


Often, these devices communicate with other devices. As just one example, a desktop computer may need to communicate with a monitor or display device. Such communications may take place over a cable. The cable may have connector inserts on each end, where the connector inserts mate with connector receptacles on the desktop and the monitor.


Currently, electronic devices may include many connector receptacles. For example, a laptop computer may have connectors for Universal Serial Bus (USB), a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), Digital Visual Interface (DVI), power, Ethernet, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, and other types of interfaces.


Such diversity is not without its downside. The inclusion of so many connectors consumes space inside the electronic device, as well as the surface area of its outer case. This means that smaller devices may only be able to include a limited number of connectors. Customer confusion may also result as users try to sort through a bewildering array of acronyms. Design complexity may also be increased. For example, to avoid damage, each new connector may be constructed such that a connector insert from a cable that supports one interface cannot be improperly inserted into a connector receptacle for another interface.


Also, as these standards and interfaces evolve, devices with newer connectors may not be compatible with a user's legacy components. For example, a new computer may have an HDMI connector, while a monitor may have a DVI connector. An adapter to convert signals from HDMI to DVI may be used, but such necessity invokes further customer dissatisfaction.


Thus, what is needed are circuits, methods, and apparatus that limit the number of types of connector receptacles needed by an electronic device.


In an exemplary embodiment of the present invention, once it is determined which receptacle pads are shorted by insert pads, the identity of the connector insert may be determined. For example, each insert may have a unique pad arrangement which identifies the connector insert as being a connection for a specific interface, such as a USB, HDMI, DVI, power, Ethernet, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, or other type of interface. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, each of a number of connector inserts may have a similar pad pattern, with one or more pads omitted, where the omissions indicate the type of connector insert.


In Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below we see an illustrated computer system 100 that may be improved by the incorporation of embodiments of the present invention. While this is an example of a desktop computer, the present invention may apply to other electronic devices such as a tablet, laptop, netbook, and all-in-one computers, cell, smart, and media phones, storage devices, portable media players, navigation systems, monitors, and others that may be improved by the incorporation of one or more embodiments of the present invention.


2. universal connector headed for Mac Pro & beyond


Connector receptacles, such as connector receptacles 165 and 170 shown on the Mac Pro like tower of FIG. 1, may receive and provide signals in compliance with various standards or interfaces, such as USB, HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, thunderbolt, or other interface. To support a large number of standards or interfaces, a correspondingly large number of connector receptacles currently need to be included in desktop computer. These connectors may add expense, complexity, and size to the desktop computer. This large number of conductors also degrades the aesthetics of the desktop computer or other electronic device, and adds to customer confusion and dissatisfaction.


Accordingly, embodiments of the present invention provide connector receptacles that are capable of accepting a variety of connector inserts that support a variety of interfaces and standards. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, a connector receptacle includes a number of relatively small contacts or pads. These contacts may be arranged on a bottom of a connector receptacle, a top of a connector receptacle, or both a bottom and top of a connector receptacle.


In other embodiments of the present invention, contacts or pads may also be included along sides of a connector receptacle. In still other embodiments of the present invention, receivers and transmitters for fiber-optic signals may be included in the connector receptacle. When a connector insert is inserted into the connector receptacle, various ones of the receptacle pads may be shorted by pads or contacts on the connector insert. By identifying which receptacle pads are connected to each other, the locations of connector insert pads may be determined. When each type of connector insert has a unique pattern, the identity of a type of connector insert may be learned using the insert pad locations. Once the type of connector insert is identified, contacts or pads in a connector receptacle may be configured to provide or receive power or other signals.


Apple's patent FIG. 3 shown below illustrates another method of forming a connection between a connector receptacle and a connector insert.


3. Apple's future universal connector may already be in play via lighting


In Patent FIG. 5 shown above, connector insert 500 may have a rounded shape such that it may be extracted from a connector receptacle using a non-axial force, that is, it may be non-binding. In still other embodiments of the present invention, connector insert may have other shapes. Also, connector insert may include other features, such as a connector housing or other structure that may be manipulated by a user during insertion.


Surprise! It's likely a Variant of Apple's New Lightning Connector


Yet in the following description, we could clearly see the light – as in Apple's new lightning connector: "In various embodiments of the present invention, the connector insert may be inserted in either of two orientations, such as right-side-up or up-side-down, and be correctly recognized by the connector receptacle."


Apple's current marketing for lightning states: "Another brilliant feature of Lightning: It's reversible - Which means there's no wrong way to plug in the cable.


In various embodiments of the present invention, the connector insert may be attached to a cable. In other embodiments of the present invention, the connector insert may be an adapter that provides a conversion from the connector insert to a conventional USB, HDMI, DVI, power, Ethernet, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, or other type of connector. Adapters, such as those offered today for the Lightning cable.


Today's patent application that was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office was originally filed in Q2 2012 by inventors Gregory Springer and Erik Shahoian.


Note that technological revelations revealed in Apple's Intellectual Property filings are not to be interpreted as rumor.


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