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Apple Invents Future USB-C, Lightning Connectors to light up in the Dark while Providing Status Information



Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple titled "Illuminated Printed Circuit Boards for Connectors." The new system lights up the connector's end so as to act as a light guide making it easier for users to connect a connector to their devices in a dimly lit or dark environment. The system will also provide users with status information and more importantly, will confirm to the user that a device like a power adapter is an official Apple product or a counterfeit.


Patent Background


Apple notes that when a user is in a dark room at night and wants to insert a connector insert into a connector receptacle on an electronic device, it's not always that easy.


Secondly, it may be difficult to tell a status of an electronic device just by observation. For example, it may be difficult to tell if a battery is charged or if the electronic device is in a silent or sleep mode.


Thirdly, once a connector insert is inserted, it may be difficult to determine if the connector insert has made an electrical connection with the connector receptacle. This may be particularly true when audible prompts have been disabled for the electronic device.


Considering these drawbacks, what is needed are connectors that facilitate the mating of corresponding connectors, particularly when ambient lighting is limited. It may also be desirable that status information for a device housing a connector receptacle may be easily determined.


Next-Gen Connectors


Apple's invention relates to providing illumination at a connector receptacle in order to facilitate the insertion of a connector insert by a user. The illumination may be generated on a tongue in the connector receptacle. The illumination may be directed in a manner to illuminate an opening of the connector receptacle, it may be guided out of a front edge of a tongue in the connector receptacle, or it may be directed in other directions.


2af x99 Apple patent figs 5 & 6

In Apple's patent FIG. 5 noted above we're able to see a tongue for a connector may be formed of a material that is at least partially transparent or translucent. For example, tongue 500 may be formed of an epoxy, glass fibers in an epoxy, or by using other materials; FIG. 6 illustrates a side view of the connector tongue shown in FIG. 5. Again, light-emitting diode #510 may be located in recess #501.


In the embodiments above, one or more LEDs may be included in, on, or proximate to a connector tongue. The illumination provided by these one or more LEDs may convey visual information to a user. The visual information may be provided to a user through the particular color of light, by a particular sequence of a light pulses, by a sequence of various colors turning off and on, or some combination thereof.


For example, a particular color or pattern of light may mean that the electronic device housing the connector receptacle may have a battery that is charged above a threshold level, is presently being charged, is charged below the threshold level, or has some other charge or charging status. In this and other embodiments of the present invention, a particular color or pattern of light may mean that the electronic device is in a sleep mode, or a silent mode, or is in some other particular state.


Accordingly, embodiments of the present invention may provide a connector system having a connector insert that has a light pipe to direct light from a connector receptacle tongue to an opening in the connector insert housing. Light from the connector receptacle tongue may then be visible to a user. In this way, charging information, status information, or other information provided by the electronic device on the connector receptacle tongue may be visible to a user when a connector insert is inserted into the connector receptacle. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, circuitry in the electronic device may detect that a connector insert has been mated with the connector receptacle.


The circuitry may drive the one or more LEDs to a color or pattern that indicates the connector insert has been mated to the connector receptacle. This may then be visible to a user to confirm that a connection has been made. Examples of such a connector system are shown in the following figures.


The range of connectors covers USB-C, Lightning, Thunderbolt and others that could be used in conjunction with all of Apple's major devices such as the iPhone, iPad, Macs and more.


Connector Authentication


Last October Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple Sues Mobile Star for Selling Counterfeit Power Adapters and Charging Cables through Amazon." Apple explained in their lawsuit that counterfeit products could lead to fires and other risks to the public.


In today's patent revelations we see that Apple isn't relying on a lawsuit to fix the problem, they're going to invent a safety system built into genuine Apple connectors that could determine if a device they're connected to is actually a genuine Apple product as advertised.


Apple notes in their filing that "In these and other embodiments of the present invention, other types of data may be conveyed using this or similar connector systems. For example, authentication, identification, or other types of information or data may be transmitted between an electronic device housing the connector receptacle and a remote circuit.


The remote circuit may be located in a connector insert that is inserted into the connector receptacle, a connector insert at a far end of a cable attached to the connector insert, or in a device connected to the electronic device through such a cable. In one specific example, the connector receptacle may be a connector receptacle for a standardized interface, such as a Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface including USB-C. The light path through the connector system may be an optional back-channel data path for devices made by a particular manufacturer or group of manufacturers.


In these and other embodiments of the present invention, a first device may recognize that a remote device may be capable of communicating using this back-channel. The first device may then configure itself, the remote device, or both in order to take advantage of a shared capability. These shared capabilities may include the ability to transfer data at non-standard rates, the ability to reconfigure one or more pins to different functions, the ability to operate at non-standard voltages, or other shared capability.


Apple's patent application was filed back in August 2016. Apple's U.S. provisional application No. 62/208,470 was filed back in August 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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