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The Perfect Timing of Apple's New Micro SIM Connector Patent

1 - The Perfect Timing of Apple's New Micro SIM Connector Patent
The timing of Apple's new micro SIM connector patent couldn't be more perfect in light of the battle between Nokia and Apple over the design of future miniature SIM cards for mobile devices. It's even been reported that Nokia has threatened to withdraw 50 or so SIM card related patents from ETSI if the Apple proposal is approved. Today's patent application sheds a little more light on the subject by illustrating that Apple's proposed SIM card connector could be utilized beyond smartphones and into devices such as Apple's MacBook Pro, iPod touch or even a monitor which could technically cover future televisions. The ability to transfer a SIM from one device to another is perhaps one of the advantages to Apple's design and why the ETSI is strongly considering it as a standard. In the era of mobility and device interconnectivity, Apple's solution may be the winner.  


Apple's Patent Background


The types of electronic devices that are available to consumers have exploded the past several years, and the rate of introduction of new products shows no signs of abating. In particular, mobile communication devices, such as smart, media, and cell phones, tablet, laptop, and netbook computers, media players, and other devices, have become ubiquitous.


The amount of functionality and connectivity of these devices has also increased. In particular, the ways in which a device can communicate has increased. Many devices now are able to communicate using wired and wireless communication protocols, such as Ethernet, Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular communications. In particular, many devices now support communications using third and fourth generation (3G and 4G) networks.

3G and 4G networks identify users through subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. Each device on the network may have a SIM card that identifies a user in order to properly route voice and data information to and from the user. These SIM cards may be inserted into an electronic device using a connector.


On occasion, a SIM card may need to be removed by a user. For example, a user may want to remove a SIM card from one device and insert it in another. For this reason, it may be desirable to provide a connector where a user can easily remove and replace a SIM card.


Also, when reinserting the SIM card, a user may insert the SIM card improperly. For example, a user may insert the card upside down or in another inappropriate manner. Therefore, it may be desirable to provide a connector that is resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card.


The ability to connect to a network, such as a 3G or 4G network, is an important one for many users. As such, it may be important that a connector for a SIM card not fail, but instead provide reliable mechanical performance.


Thus, what is needed are SIM connectors that allow SIM cards to be easily removed and replaced by a user, are resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card, and provide reliable mechanical performance.


Apple's Solution


Apple's invention relates to the provision of connectors that allow SIM cards to be easily removed and replaced, may be resistant to damage by an improper insertion of a SIM card, and may provide reliable mechanical performance.


An illustrative embodiment of the present invention may provide connectors that allow SIM cards to be easily removed and replaced. Specifically, a plunger system may be provided where a user can push a plunger rod and eject a SIM card. This card, or a new card, may be easily be reinserted by pushing the card into the connector.


Another illustrative embodiment of the present invention may provide connectors that are resistant to damage by improper insertion of a SIM card by a user. Specifically, internal contacts may be arranged such that they have a low profile. This low profile may enable the contacts to not be damaged during an improper insertion.


Other various embodiments of the present invention may provide for a reliable mechanical performance. One such embodiment may provide a metallic detect switch and contacts. Care may be taken in order to prevent the detect switch and contacts from being shorted. Specifically, one or more portions of the plunger system may be coated or otherwise covered by a nonconductive material. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, the nonconductive material may be polytetrafluoroethylene or Teflon.


In other embodiments of the present invention, the connector may have a plastic housing. This plastic housing may be formed using injection molding. To improve the mechanical reliability (and manufacturability) of the connector, care may be taken to avoid large variations in the thickness of the housing. To even out the thickness of the housing, various holes or open areas may be formed.


In some of these embodiments of the present invention, a metallic shield may be used for mechanical stability and electromagnetic protection. To further improve the mechanical reliability of the connector, portions of the shield may be inserted into the holes or open areas in the connector housing.


Types of Devices and SIMs Covered


Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below illustrates an electronic device that is improved by the incorporation of an embodiment of the present invention. This figure includes electronic device 100 which could be an iPad (tablet), MacBook Pro (laptop) or netbook. The device could also be an iPhone (cell, media, or smart phone), an iPod touch (media player), monitor (which technically could also cover a future TV), or other type of electronic device. Apple's inclusion of a SIM card into a MacBook Pro/Laptop in this invention supports their many telephonic MacBook centric patent applications.


2 - Apple's newly proposed SIM Connector will work with many types of devices

Apple states that card 110 may be a SIM card, mini-SIM card, micro-SIM, or other type of card or electronic device. For example, card 120 may be a micro-SIM card and in a mini-SIM card tray or emulator. Card 110 may be inserted into electronic device using connector 120.


Apple's mystery inclusion of "other type of card" in this application could be demystified by their latest granted patent which discusses the use of an Integrated Circuit Card (ICC) in connection with a SIM Tray. An ICC is what is used in Visa credit cards, for example. This translates to ICC's being integrated into an iPhone or other mobile device via a mini-tray system for the purposes of ecommerce. This was covered in our report titled "Apple Wins Patent Relating to Nano SIM and iWallet Chip." This is a huge advantage in Apple's SIM strategy and one that could be helpful to the entire industry. This is likely why Apple's SIM card standard is being considered by the ETSI.


The SIM Card Connector


Apple's patent FIG. 2 illustrates portions of a connector according to an embodiment of the present invention. This figure, as with the other included figures, is shown for illustrative purposes and does not limit either the embodiments of the present invention or the claims. Also, while embodiments of the present invention are particularly suited to SIM card connectors, other connectors may be improved consistent with embodiments of the present invention. Meaning that if Nano SIM cards are the standard at this time or will be soon, the patent covers that as well.  Obviously Apple will utilize the latest card at the time of manufacturing a product.


The connector 120 may include housing or tray 210 which could be formed using plastic or other insulative material. A plunger rod 220 may include face 222 which could provide a point at which a user may apply a force. The connector may also include insert detect switch 260, which may open when a SIM card is fully inserted into connector 120.


The connector may further include a shield including a bottom plate 240 and top plate 280 for mechanical stability and electromagnetic shielding. The connector may also include retaining clips 250 and 252 to hold a SIM card or other device securely in place.


Contacts 230 may have a low profile. This may aid contacts 230 from being damaged if a SIM card is inserted into the connector in an upside down or otherwise improper manner.


3 exploded view of Apple's proposed SIM Connector

Apple's patent FIG. 3 illustrates another view of a connector. Apple notes that the connector's lever (270) may be coated with polytetrafluoroethylene, Teflon or another nonconductive material. These coatings may be desirable so that the insert switch (260) and contact point (262) don't accidentally get shorted by the lever's actions.


Patent Credits


Apple's patent application was originally filed in Q3 2010 by inventors Zheng Gao, Benjamin Rappoport and Steve McClure.


Notice: Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics 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 product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


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