Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 57 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. In this particular report we cover smart connectors, with a newly revealed variant style worth noting.
Apple notes that in an effort to progressively improve the functionality of a portable electronic device, new ways of configuring an accessory device are desirable. A variety of accessory devices are available that can augment the functionality of host electronic devices such as tablet computers, smart phones, laptop computers, etc.
These accessory devices often include electronic circuitry and one or more embedded batteries that power the electronic circuitry. In many such devices the batteries can be charged by connecting an appropriate cable to a charging port. Such ports and the contacts positioned therein can be susceptible to damage, etc. Consequently, an accessory device with more robust and/or protected charging contacts is desirable.
Granted Patent: Magnetic Surface Contacts
Apple's newly granted patent covers their invention relating to a connector for an accessory device capable of exchanging power and data with an electronic device. In particular, the connector includes recessed contacts that are magnetically actuated by magnets associated with contacts of the electronic device.
The iPad Pro's 'Smart Connector'
The most important value to today's granted patent is that Apple's iPad Pro 'Smart Connector' is now protected.
However, what's interesting to note here is that the iPad Pro using the Smart Connector debuted on November 11, 2015. So today's granted patent being filed in June 2016, or seven months after the Smart Connector launched, makes this patent very intriguing. If Apple chose the Smart Connector as noted in FIG. 1 above for the iPad Pro, why bother throwing in a new design after the fact?
It may suggest that Apple's engineering team thinks that the alternative magnetic connector style has more potential the iPhone (as illustrated below) where there is more activity plugging and unplugging the connector over time, compared to the stationary Smart Connector that's pretty much limited to connecting to the iPad.
Possible Alternative Smart Connector for iPhone
Apple's patent FIGS. 10A, 10B and 11A above provide us with a look at a variant smart connector with magnets, clearly illustrated on an iPhone.
More specifically, Apple's patent FIGS. 10A and 10B illustrate an alternative connector design taking the form of connector #1000. Patent FIG. 10A depicts the connector and how it includes magnet #1002 and shunt #1004, which both remain stationary with respect to electrical contact #1006 regardless of the application of an external magnetic field.
Patent FIG. 10B illustrates how the electrical contact, magnet and shunt move in response to the approaching magnetic connector (#1010). This movement is made possible by a sliding connection between electrical contact 1006 and lead 1008. The sliding connection can take many forms, including but not limited to a bearing with stops allowing a predefined amount of movement of the electrical contact with respect to the lead #1008.
Apple's patent FIG. 11A illustrates multiple views of a connector plug (#1100) which has pill-shaped protrusions that include four electrical contacts #1102 and can be packaged with circuitry allowing for the plug to be electrically coupled with receptacle connector #1152 of electronic device (#1150, an iPhone) in either of two orientations.
Both the receptacle connector and the plug can include magnets for facilitating a robust connection between the connector plug and receptacle connector. The magnets can be arranged in a complementary array configured to facilitate precise alignment of the connector plug with receptacle connector.
In some embodiments, the pill-shaped protrusion of the connector plug can be configured to extend and retract when approaching and drawing away from receptacle connector.
Apple's granted patent was originally filed in Q2 2016 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
A new smart connector may have a series of benefits that will outweigh the negatives and Apple will definitely make it a hard sell if they so choose to go that route. Yet I would equally expect that the initial knee-jerk reaction from fans will be negative for forcing new adapters on them and so forth.
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