On May 01, 2015, the World Intellectual Property Organization published a patent application from Apple regarding a unified connector for multiple interfaces which may be considered Apple's work regarding USB-C. The application which was officially published yesterday was originally filed for back in October 2014 or only months before Apple introduced the USB-C connector in their new MacBook. Apple's patent abstract states that the patent covers "circuits, methods, and apparatus that may reduce the number of connector receptacles that are needed on an electronic device. One example may provide a unified connector and circuitry that may be capable of communicating with more than one interface."
Apple's Patent Background
The amount of data transferred between electronic devices has grown tremendously the last several years. Large amounts of audio, streaming video, text, and other types of data content are now regularly transferred among portable computing devices, tablet computers, desktop computers, laptops, all-in-one computers, wearable computing devices, cell phones, smart phones, media phones, storage devices, portable media players, navigation systems, monitors, power supplies, adapters, remote control devices, chargers, and other devices.
These data transfers may occur over various media. For example, the data transfers may be made wirelessly, over wire conductors, over fiber optic cables, or they may be made in other ways. Power may be transferred with the data, or power may be transferred separately. For example, power and data may be transferred from one electronic device to another, or power may be separately transferred from a battery, charging circuit, or power converter to an electronic device.
Power and data may be conveyed over cables that may include wire conductors, fiber optic cables, or some combination of these or other conductors. Cable assemblies may include a connector insert at each end of a cable, though other cable assemblies may be connected or tethered to an electronic device in a dedicated manner. The connector inserts may be inserted into receptacles in the communicating electronic devices.
The patent background concludes, "It would be desirable to reduce the number of connector receptacles that are needed on an electronic device. Also, since so much data is transferred between devices, it would also be desirable that the remaining connector receptacles be capable of high-speed data transmission."
Apple Invents a Unified Connector for Multiple Interfaces
Apple's invention provides circuits, methods, and apparatus that may reduce the number of connector receptacles that are needed on an electronic device. An illustrative embodiment of the present invention may provide a unified connector and circuitry that may be capable of communicating with more than one signal interface. This unified connector may also be capable of transferring data at high data rates using a unified or legacy interface.
Getting to the heart of the matter the following points are key parts of the summary that get to the point of Apple's work on a unified connector with a unified USB-C type of interface:
Apple notes that "a unified interface may be used to convey signals according to or consistent with one or more legacy interfaces. A unified interface may also be used to convey signals not associated with a legacy interface. In various embodiments of the present invention, a unified interface may be a USB-C or other type of interface. A unified connector may be used to convey signals according to or consistent with a unified interface."
Embodiments of the present invention may provide connector receptacles and inserts that may be located in, and may connect to, various types of devices, such as portable computing devices, tablet computers, desktop computers, laptops, all-in-one computers, wearable computing devices, cell phones, smart phones, media phones, storage devices, portable media players, navigation systems, monitors, power supplies, adapters, remote control devices, chargers, and other devices. These connector receptacles and inserts may provide pathways for signals that are compliant with various standards such as Universal Serial Bus (USB), USB-2, USB-3, USB-C, High-Definition Multimedia Interface VII. Digital Visual Interface (DVI), Ethernet, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, Lightning, Joint Test Action Group (JTAG), test-access-port (TAP), Directed Automated Random Testing
For simplicity, legacy and unified interfaces may be shown herein as having up to three types of signals, high-speed data signals (which may be on the order of 5-100 GHz, for example 20 GHz), low-speed data signals (which may be 1-10 GHz, for example 5 GHz), and control or auxiliary signals (which may be closer to DC) where control or auxiliary signals may be signals to control a state or mode, or to program a state of mode of one or more circuits or devices.
An illustrative embodiment of the present invention may provide a unified connector and circuitry that may communicate with more than one interface where each signal in each of the possible interfaces is provided over a unified connector.
Embodiments of the present invention may provide cables that may be reversible and have rotatable plugs at one or both ends. A. cable may be reversible when a first plug in a receptacle in a first device and a second plug in a receptacle in a second device may be swapped such that the first plug is inserted into the receptacle in the second device and the second plug is inserted into the receptacle in the first device while maintaining functionality. A plug may be rotatable if it may be inserted into a corresponding receptacle in any of at least two orientations.
Apple's patent Figure 15 noted above illustrates a unified connector and associated circuitry according to an embodiment of the present invention. In this example, two receive signals are received by circuitry #1426 and provided as a single received signal on the unified connector. Circuitry #1416 may receive the single signal and deconstruct it into two receive signals for the second legacy interface.
Again, embodiments of the present invention may provide cables that are reversible. That is, a cable having a first plug inserted into a receptacle in a first device and a second plug inserted into a receptacle of a second device may be reversed such that the first plug is inserted into the receptacle of a second device and the second plug is inserted into a receptacle of a first device, where functionality is maintained in both configurations.
According to Apple, patent "Figure 33 illustrates a cross-section of one cable example according to an embodiment of the present invention. In this example, power and signals for a USB interface are provided, along with a low-speed signal conductor that may be used to convey a low-speed signal. This low-speed signal may be the CC signal described in the USB-C standard, though it may be another low-speed signal in other embodiments of the present invention. More specifically, this cable may include two USB signal lines #3310, each including center conductors #3312 surrounded by insulating layers #3314. Two power conductors #3220 may be included. Power conductors #3320 may include center conductors #3322 surrounded by insulating layers #3324. These conductors may be surrounded by shield layer #3340. The cable may be protected by and surrounded by jacket #3350."
To learn more about the details of this patent application click here.
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