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Apple introduces us to the Smart Dock for the MacBook & More

1 - Apple Introduces us to the Smart Dock for the Macbook & More 
On June 30, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals one of the next chapters for docking stations. Apple's current docking solutions are primarily restricted to iOS devices and are basically passive in nature. Today's patent application reveals Apple's intentions of expanding docking solutions to the MacBook while introducing us to the smart-dock. This next generation docking station will be location-smart or location-aware. For example, the proposed dynamic docking station could automatically be set to work with your living room devices such as your HDTV and/or stereo and then switch its configuration to work with other peripherals when you transport it to your office, car or elsewhere. 


Apple Thinks that the Passive Docking Station Needs Some Smarts


Many portable computing devices, such as notebook or laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, etc. are designed to be lightweight and compact for ease in transportability. However, the compact and lightweight design of such devices often limits the number and types of peripheral devices that are available to the computing device.


One way to increase the versatility of a portable computing device is couple the computing device to a docking station that provides connections between one or more peripheral devices. A docking station, when connected to a portable computing device, often provides for a number of different types of ports that may not be feasible on a small and lightweight portable device. For example, the docking station may provide one or more ports to drive a large monitor, communicate with various peripherals, provide connection to a network, provide power to the portable device, and so forth.


Docking stations are typically passive devices, providing straight-through connections to a network and other peripheral devices through a matching interface located on the computing device. Thus, a computing device docked at a docking station located at a user's home may provide the same functionality when the same device docked at a docking station located at the user's work office, the only difference being the type and number of peripherals coupled to the docking station at each location.


Thus, it is often left to the user to configure the computing device for use at different locations by accessing or selecting the proper software applications and security measures for the computing device based on the location of the docking station coupled to the device. However, such configuration of the device may be both time-consuming and confusing to a non-sophisticated user.


Thus, what is needed is docking station that determines the location of the docking station, and subsequently the computing device coupled to the docking station, and alters the functionality and configuration of the computing device based on the device's location.


Different Docks for Different user Needs


In the past, a traditional notebook computer dock was dedicated to one general purpose dock with relevant PC ports to work with a home or work computer. Apple thinks that could be improved.


In Apple's patent FIG. 2 we see a block diagram of a plurality of docking stations that a computing device 200 may dock with to provide separate functionality and security features to the computing device. While the device shown here is that of a notebook, Apple clarifies the concept applies to any device, be it a a PDA (iPod touch), iPhone, iPad and so forth. The docking station is conceptual and therefore is likely to take on different design if and when this is implemented.


2 - Apple Envisions Docking Stations Dedicated to Specific Functionality - June 2011, Patently Apple 

Apple states that the location of each docking station noted above may be such that a separate functionality of computing device 200 is desired at each location. For example, when docked in a docking station 202 located at a user's work, the user may desire to utilize the computing device as a work-related computer, capable of accessing the user's work emails and work calendar, along with several work-related software programs.


When docked in a docking station 204 at home, however, the computing device 200 is most likely utilized as a home computer, possibly accessing the user's personal email accounts, personal calendar, music management software, gaming programs, etc.


Additionally, the user may also have a docking station 206 in their car or in their living room to view television or in some cases, used as an electronic picture frame. Further, a docking station for the computing device may be portable such that the user may carry the docking station to a remote location to interface with one or more computing peripherals at the remote location. Thus, the user may also have a remotely located docking station 212, possibly used during travel.


The Brains behind the Smart Docking Station


3 - the Brains of the docking station, Apple, June 2011, Patently Apple 

Apple's patent FIG. 3 introduces us to the brain of the docking station. To facilitate the determination of the location of the docking station 300, the docking station may include a processor (314) and memory (316) to receive the docking station's location and store such location for later use by the station.


The Dynamic Docking Station


In one embodiment, the location of the docking station may be dynamic such that it can change based on the physical location of the docking station. For example, the docking station may receive a new location from a computing device whenever a computing device docks with the station. In this example, the computing device may acquire a location from one or more sources, such as global positioning system (GPS), a network or Wi-Fi identification or manually from the user. This location is then provided to the docking station whenever the computing device is docked with the station. This particular embodiment may be useful for a portable docking station as the location of the docking station may vary over time.


In yet another embodiment, the docking station may obtain its location from a source other than the computing device. For example, the docking station may include a GPS device to determine its location. Alternatively, in those configurations where the docking station is connected to a network, the station may utilize a network internet protocol (IP) address or other identifying measures to determine the location of the docking station. For example, the docking station may connect, either directly through a network connection or wirelessly, to a public network. This network may have an indication of the network's location such that the docking station may determine its location based on the identification of the network. Generally, the docking station may use any method available to a computing device to determine its location.


The Docking Station may Include Automated Setup


According to Apple's patent, the computing device sets and controls the various aspects of the device in response to the received location of the docking station. In this embodiment, the location of the docking station is passed to the computing device when the device is docked into the station. Once received, the computing device may access a file or look-up table that maintains one or more different configurations of the device based on the location information received from the docking station 300.


For example, the docking station may provide a location to the computing device that indicates that the docking station is located in a television viewing area, such as a living room of a user or on an entertainment center. Once the location of the docking station is received, the computing device may determine which configuration matches the received location. In this example, the computing device may load a television viewing configuration that facilitates watching television programs through the computing device. Thus, the computing device may automatically load one or more hardware drivers and software applications for viewing television online, as well as activating speakers connected to the docking station, among several other features of the computing device that may be loaded or activated upon determination of the location of the device.


Alternatively, rather than providing a location, the docking station may provide a configuration suggestion, such as "computer", "television", "navigation device", or the like that directs the computing location to configure certain hardware components and adopt a particular group of settings associated with the configuration suggestions. The docking station may also provide a code or other identifier that represents or indicates the suggested configuration to the computing device


Expanded Security


Generally, several software and hardware aspects of the computing device may be altered or set in response to the received location information of the docking station. In addition, any unrecognized location may cause the computing device to load a default configuration, perhaps with expanded security to prevent unauthorized access to the computing device.


Flowcharts: Methods for Altering the Functionality of a Device


4- Apple Flowcharts - methods of altering the functionality of a device, June 2011, Patently Apple  

Apple's patent FIG. 5 is a flow chart of a method for a docking station to alter the functionality of a computing device into a work-related computing device based on the location of the docking station at a work location; FIG. 6 alters the functionality of a computing device into a navigation-related computing device based on the location of the docking station in a user's vehicle; FIG 7 alters the functionality of a computing device into a television-related computing device and FIG. 8 alters the functionality of a computing device into an electronic picture frame.


One More Thing


In our recent report titled "Intel, Apple & the Transformation of the PC," we covered Intel describing the need for next generation notebook docking stations for 2012-2013 when their revolutionary Haswell processor comes to market. This is the processor that could end the need for a traditional desktop as we know it. Apple's patent application would appear to be timely in context with Intel's recent keynote revelations.  


For more information about Apple's proposed smart docking system, see patent application 20110162035. Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q4 2009 by inventors Nicholas King, Aleksandar Pance and Brett Bilbrey.


Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today


We may list other patent applications here later today.


Notice: Patently Apple presents a brief yet detailed summary of patent applications 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 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 products including the iPod, iPhone, the iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more.


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