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An Apple Patent introduces us to a Different Kind of Wireless Charging using Inductive Charging Ports


Apple has a large portfolio of patents covering wireless charging from different angles such as using a charging plate to using millimeter wave technology through to inductive charging systems using advanced plug connectors. This week a major inductive charging system patent was published by the US Patent & Trademark Office that's one of the most elaborate to date. Apple's latest wireless inductive system doesn't use a traditional inductive charging pad, it uses a new kind of inductive charging port system that allows a device to be charged by mating it to a charger via magnets, not via a connector. By eliminating the traditional charging port, the system comes closer to being waterproof and allows the device to have a thinner form factor. Even though Apple calls it an inductive charging port, the use of connectors like Lightning and USB 2 for charging are eliminated. 


Patent Background


Since electronic devices are becoming ever smaller, the presence of large connectors may be non-optimal. Also, since the contacts are at the surfaces of the electronic devices, they may be exposed to corroding fluids that may shorten device lifespan. Since the electronic devices come into physical contact, the connector contacts may become damaged when a connection is formed. Electronic devices may also have fluids spilled on them or they may become partially submerged. Resulting moisture leakage may damage the electronic device housing the connector assembly. Also, connector systems may be manufactured in the millions of units.


Accordingly, any simplification in the assembly process may noticeably reduce manufacturing costs. Further, a failure of the connector system may render an entire electronic device inoperable, so reliability may be important for maintaining customer satisfaction.


In that light, what is needed are connector assemblies that may be space efficient, have a high corrosion resistance, are difficult to damage, reduce or prevent moisture leakage into an electronic device housing the connector assembly, are readily assembled, and are reliable.


Inductive Charging Ports


Apple's invention may provide connector assemblies that may be space efficient, have a high corrosion resistance, are difficult to damage, reduce or prevent moisture leakage into an electronic device housing the connector assembly, are readily assembled, and are reliable.


An illustrative embodiment of the present invention may provide a space efficient connector assembly by using inductive charging ports for transferring electrical energy from a first electric device to a second electronic device.


As compared to conventional connector inserts and connector receptacles, these inductive charging ports may have a smaller form factor and consume a reduced volume in an electronic device. This may allow the device to be smaller or to include an increased level of functionality, or combination of the two.


These inductive charging ports may transmit or receive power, though in various embodiments of the present invention, an inductive charging port may be arranged to only transmit or receive power.


In a transmitting port of an electronic device, a 0.5 MHz, 1.0 MHz, 1.2 MHz, 2.0 MHz, or other frequency signal may be applied to a winding around a transformer core. This may induce a current in a winding around a transformer core in a second, mated receiving port in a second electronic device. The induced current may then be used to operate the second electronic device, charge a battery in the second electronic device, or both.


These inductive charging ports may provide corrosion resistance by including a protective layer or cover portion over what would otherwise be exposed surfaces of a transformer core. Even where surfaces of a transformer core are exposed, the transformer core may be formed using a soft ferrite material. These materials may be less susceptible to corrosion damage than a conventional stainless-steel or other type of contact.


In another illustrative embodiment, a connector assembly for an electronic device may include a housing supporting a transformer core. The housing may retract into a device enclosure while the electronic device is being mated with a second device and move forward when the mating has been achieved to reduce the gap between the mating transformer cores. This may protect the transformer core while the devices are being mated.


To improve inductive coupling between devices, the housing may extend beyond a surface of the device enclosure. During mating, the electronic device and the second device may move laterally relative to each other. To avoid damage to the housing, the housing may retract into the enclosure while the enclosure of the second device moves across the face of the enclosure for the electronic device. Sloped lead-ins at the surface of the housing on each side of the transformer core may gradually push the housing into the enclosure as they are engaged by the second device. To further protect the transformer core, a surface of the transformer core may be recessed behind a peak of the lead-ins on the housing.


In these and other embodiments of the present invention, other types of connection detection apparatus may be used. For example, a proximity sensor, such as a Hall-effect sensor, may be placed on a connector assembly, while a magnet may be placed on a second, mating connector assembly. The electronic device with the proximity sensor may detect a change in magnetic flux indicating that the second connector assembly is coming into a mated position. As another example, the presence of a mating connector assembly may be detected by providing a stimulus to a connector assembly and then monitoring the result. For instance, a coil on an inductive charging port may be activated for a short burst. A 5 MHz or other frequency signal may be applied to the coil for a limited duration. Following the burst, the decay of the resulting signal may be monitored. If a second, mating inductive charging port is present, the transformer in the mating port may sustain the signal and the decay may take longer to reach a threshold level, while if no mating transformer is present, the signal may decay quicker and reach a threshold level in a shorter time. As another example, an optical detect may be used to detect mating, or attachment. A light-emitting diode (LED) in an electronic device may generate light, which may be reflected by a surface of a mating connector in a second device as the second device moves across the surface of the electronic device. The reflected light may be detected using a photodiode, which may generate a signal indicating that a connection has been made. The LED and photodiode may also be used for data communication when connectors of the first and second electronic devices are mated. As still another example, a user may provide an input via a user interface to the electronic device indicating that a connection has been made. Any combination of presence detection techniques may be used, and the first and second electronic devices may use the same technique or different techniques.



Apple later notes that in some embodiments, optical data ports #2102 and #2104 may also be used to detect attachment or mating between a first connector assembly that includes first optical data port and a second connector assembly that includes second optical data port.


Apple's patent FIG. 22 noted above illustrates a simplified cross-section view of portions of two complementary connector assemblies. Shown are a portion of a first connector assembly #2202 and a portion of a second connector assembly #2204. The first connector assembly includes a first optical data port and may also include an inductive charging port (not shown in FIG. 22).


Apple's patent FIG. 48 illustrated below presents just is a single stage of an assembly process for a 60-GHz data port within a multi-stage process.


3AFX 2017 INDUCTIVE CHARGING transceiver chip

Apple's patent FIGS. 46-51, shows various stages of an assembly process for a data port of which FIG. 48 is just one. The overview of these patent figures show a simplified view of the transceiver chip #4206 which may be a packaged semiconductor device that incorporates antenna components to generate and detect RF signals as well as signal processing circuitry (amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters, analog-to-digital converters, encoders, decoders, modulators, demodulators, etc.). A back surface portion of the transceiver chip may have electrical contacts disposed thereon supply power to transceiver chip and to provide signal input and output paths for data communication and control signals.


Apple's patent application 20170250578 was filed back in Q1 2017. Apple provides well over 60 patent figures illustrating various parts of the device and in different iterations.


Our cover graphic illustrates patent figures 14B on the left and 13 on the right. FIG. 13 illustrates additional examples of transformer core shapes that may be used and 14B illustrates a semi-circular design which provides higher power transfer efficiency than one with a U shape design. Apple notes that in some embodiments space constraints or other design considerations may preclude the use of semicircular transformer cores. Some designs will work in future desktops or notebooks while others in future iDevices, wearables and accessories.


With Apple's iPhone X being the first iDevice to adopt inductive charging, it'll be interesting to see which methodology that they've initially chosen to go with. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of this specific kind of inductive charging system coming to market is unknown at this time.


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