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A New Docking Device from Apple Set to Simplify Bluetooth Pairing

1 - Apple Inc patent - serial pass-through device - The report's Cover Graphic 
On July 15, 2010, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals various concepts behind a newly advanced docking station-like device. The thinking behind the device is to make Bluetooth paring between two devices a snap, literally. Apple introduces us to a serial pass-through device in the form of a docking station and/or a travelling charger embodiment. Along with paring devices in an easier manner, the device will also add a superior layer of security than is currently available with the Bluetooth standard. Another docking station related patent also surfaced today that covers the topic of inductive power. We point to a few presentations to help you understand this coming revolution.

Patent Background

Recently, there has been considerable interest in providing short-range wireless devices that are easily interoperable with other devices not necessarily produced by the same manufacturer. For instance, it is desirable to provide wireless headsets for mobile phones that will work with phones made by different manufacturers, or to provide keyboards, mice or other peripheral devices that will work with computers made by different manufacturers. Interoperability increases consumer choice and flexibility.

Various standards bodies and industry groups have defined standards for short-range wireless communication. One common example is the standard developed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (a non-profit organization) and licensed under the trademark Bluetooth (RTM). The Bluetooth standard (referred to herein simply as "Bluetooth") allows a host device such as a mobile phone and an accessory such as a headset to establish a wireless "pairing." A pairing is usually established through a partly-automated, partly-manual process. For example, a wireless headset might send a signal identifying itself as a Bluetooth-enabled device. A mobile phone detects this signal and thus determines that the accessory is available for pairing. The mobile phone then prompts the user to enter a "passcode" or "PIN code" for the accessory. In some cases, the accessory's passcode is hard-coded in the accessory, and the user must look up the passcode (e.g., in documentation associated with the accessory) and enter it into the mobile phone. In other cases, the accessory's passcode is not hard-coded, and the accessory can make up an arbitrary passcode, which the user then enters into the mobile phone.

In either case, after receiving the passcode from the user, the mobile phone sends the passcode to the accessory. If the passcode matches the accessory's passcode, the accessory confirms the match, and a pairing is established. If the passcode does not match, the pairing is not established, and the user may be advised of the failure and allowed to retry. The number of retries is normally limited to prevent unauthorized users from determining passcodes through trial and error.

The Bluetooth standard also provides for encryption of data transmitted between paired devices. Symmetric-key cryptography, in which the same "link key" is used for both encryption and decryption, is used. The initial link key is generated independently by both devices using the passcode and a random number that is generated by one of the paired devices and transmitted to the other as cleartext. Thereafter, the two devices can generate a new link key. However, because the random number and the passcode are transmitted wirelessly as cleartext, an interloper could gain access to that information and determine the initial link key, then monitor subsequent transmissions.

Thus, existing procedures for configuring Bluetooth or other wireless links can be cumbersome, and the links themselves might not be as secure as desired. It would therefore be desirable to provide improved methods for communicating information, such as information related to configuring a Bluetooth or other wireless communication link, between two devices.

Apple's patent provides an easier method for configuring Bluetooth while providing a process that offers superior security. While the overview of the device is rather simple, the technology behind it is rather daunting and really meant for the eyes of those in this particular discipline.

A Pass-Through Device in the Form of a Dock

Apple's patent FIGS. 1A and 1B illustrate systems with a host device connected to an accessory through an intermediate device.

2 - Apple Inc, A serial pass-through device - example 1 

Apple's patent FIG. 1A illustrates system 100 which includes host device 102, accessory 104, and intermediate device 106 – which is later described as a Serial Pass-Through Device. In some embodiments, the host device could be a media player, such as any iPod. In general, a media player could be any iOS device – but could also technically cover MacBooks or an iMac for that matter, according to the patent.

The accessory could be any accessory adapted to interoperate with the host device. For example, in an embodiment where host device is an iPhone, the accessory 104 might be that of a hands-free headset adapted for use with host device which may include, e.g., an earbud speaker 108 and microphone 110 connected to a body member 112.

In some embodiments, the accessory is capable of communicating wirelessly with the host device once a channel for wireless communication has been established between the two. For example, the accessory and the host device may each be provided with Bluetooth technology, including appropriate short-range transceiver units. In some embodiments, it may be possible to establish a Bluetooth pairing between the host device and the accessory using conventional techniques, such as manual entry of a passcode (or PIN code) associated with the accessory into the host device.

Yet the heart of this patent is all about Bluetooth pairings that could be established automatically. Apple wants to take away any of the complexities of pairing devices using Bluetooth. With that said, this aspect of the patent is covered in a very complex sub chapter titled "Tunneling Commands" which isn't covered in this report due to its arcane terminologies that could only be appreciated by those engineers practicing this particular discipline.

3 - Apple Inc patent, a serial pass-through device Example 2 

Apple's FIG. 1B illustrates system 130 according to another embodiment of the present invention. In system 130, the host device and the accessory could each be connected to and intermediate device (136). The intermediate device could be a docking station for home or office use. The Intermediate device could also be a travel charger that could easily be carried by a user (e.g., in a briefcase or other luggage).

Apple establishes that an "intermediate device" could be any device that could be connected to at least a host device and an accessory at the same time. The intermediate device is capable of communicating with the host device and the accessory, in particular forwarding, or "tunneling," commands from one of the host device or accessory to the other.

Apple's Patent FIG. 9A and 9B represent alternative embodiments to those presented above.

4 - Apple Patent, Establishing bluetooth pairing 

Serial Pass-Through Device

In some embodiments, the intermediate device could operate as a serial pass-through device. As a serial pass-through device, the intermediate device could provide serial data that is received from an accessory device to a host (e.g., a mobile computing device or phone). Thus, a serial pass-through device could include a serial interface that could be coupled with an accessory using any type of connector (e.g., a standard serial connector) and could provide serial communication between the serial pass-through device and the accessory.

The serial pass-through device could also include a host interface that provides communication between the serial pass-through device and the host using a host communication protocol. In some embodiments, the serial pass-through device could participate in authentication procedures with the host. In response to the authentication process, the host could allow or deny the serial pass-through device from communicating with the host and/or accessing functionality of the host. In some embodiments, the serial pass-through device could provide serial data to a specific application executing at the host device using an accessory defined protocol, a host communication protocol, or both.

In one embodiment, the authentication controller could be implemented on a single integrated circuit, for example, on a single chip and/or as part of the controller. By providing the authentication controller on a single integrated circuit, external access to the private key and/or the authentication algorithm may be substantially reduced. As a result, the authentication process may not only be cryptographically secured but also physically secured by limited physical access.

The Host could include an authentication manager, which may communicate with the authentication controller to authenticate and provide privileges (or permissions) to the serial pass-through device. The authentication manager may perform cryptography functions in conjunction with the authentication controller. In some embodiments, such cryptography functions include public-private key cryptography.

System Overview

Apple's patent FIG. 2 is a block diagram of system 200 which includes a host device 202 (e.g., implementing host device 102 of FIGS. 1A-1B), an accessory 220 (e.g., implementing accessory 104 of FIGS. 1A-1B), and an intermediate device 240 (e.g., implementing intermediate device 106 of FIG. 1A or intermediate device 136 of FIG. 1B).

5 - System Overview 

For example, the accessory I/O interface could support connections to an external speaker dock, a radio (e.g., FM, AM and/or satellite) tuner, an external video device, or the like. In accordance with an embodiment of the present invention, the accessory I/O interface allows the host device to communicate with the intermediate device.

For those wishing to explore Apple's patent further will find extensive detailing of such matters as: Tunneling Commands, Communication Process Using Tunneling, Tunnel Protocol Commands for Wireless Pairing and the Wireless Pairing Process.

Apple credits John Ananny, David Fisher, Peter Langenfeld and Scott Krueger as the inventors of patent application 20100180063, originally filed in Q1 2010. It should be noted that the patent design resembles that of the 3G iPhone docking station that came with a wireless headset. Yet the technology behind the device goes beyond this one example. The history of the patent demonstrates that Apple has continually upgraded their patent from 2007 right through to January 2010 - way beyond the iPhone docking station time frame. The patent background suggests that Apple's solution could eventually apply to several peripherals such as keyboards, mice and more.   


Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today

Another of Apple's published patent applications today, found under patent 20100177476, is really a follow-through on Apple's recently granted patent 7,715,187 covering various styled docking stations including one that could apply to a future iPad-like device (with a flat back-end). This patent along with another we covered in April about Smart device covers had one thing in common: inductive or inductance based charging. One aspect of the latter patent was omitted in the original report due to its length which covered the following:

6 - Wireless Power Consortium logo

Power Module 216: The electronic cover could also include a power module. The power module may include a battery. The electronic cover may also include an on-board charging system. The charging system may include an inductance charging means and/or a solar charging means (e.g., photovoltaics) and/or a kinetic charging means. For example, the outer covering may include an inductive surface that mates with a corresponding external inductive surface in order to charge the battery included in the outer covering and/or the battery of the portable electronic device.

In that same time-frame, the Wireless Power Consortium released the completion of Part 1 of the interoperability specification. You could check out their "How it Works" or "CES 2009" presentations to get the overview of inductive devices. The slide presentations are slow to load, so be patient.

The concepts and implementations of using magnetic based inductive power, that were presented in Apple's granted patent in respect to an iPad-like docking station, are also covered in the CES 2009 presentation noted above.

The Wireless Power Consortium's logo noted above represents the word Chi (pronounced "chee") meaning "vital energy" in Asian philosophy. For more information on their logo click here


7 - The evolution of the Dock 
Apple's two other published patents today cover the bookmarking or the radio presets feature that is currently employed in the latest iPod nano (patent 20100178938) and the second is a patent that covers editing in Final Cut Pro (20100178024).

Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) 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 further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number(s) noted in this report into this search engine. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.



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