Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to a possible new strobe light accessory that could be used with an iPhone, iPad, MacBook and more. The accessory could be connected via Lightning or wireless.
As part of the patent's background, Apple states that small, mobile multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet or pad devices commonly have one or more cameras for taking pictures. An internal strobe or flash positioned near the camera is typically provided on such multipurpose devices as well. These devices may also include programming that determines whether the strobe is to be used in taking a picture (e.g., based on ambient light conditions) and/or the duration and intensity of strobe illumination while the picture is taken. A metering phase (or state) on the device is typically used to determine whether the strobe is to be used and, if used, the duration and intensity of the illumination.
The metering phase may include, for example, exposure metering using ambient light conditions followed by metering while brief, low intensity illumination is provided by the strobe. Focusing of the camera is also typically determined during the metering phase. Metering may also include determining white balance, color temperature, and/or other image capture properties for the camera. After the metering phase, one or more images may be captured by the camera while the strobe operates in its normal or main flash phase (state). In the main flash phase, the strobe typically operates for a shorter time than the metering phase but at a higher intensity of illumination.
Internal strobes may be provided on mobile multipurpose devices to provide convenience for the user and to maintain a small form factor for the device. External strobe devices (e.g., external strobe accessories) have generally not been developed for mobile multipurpose devices as cameras on mobile multipurpose devices are most frequently used for photography where there is little need or desire for additional illumination (e.g., amateur photography purposes). As camera technology in mobile multipurpose devices advances, there is increasing potential that mobile multipurpose device cameras may be used for more professional-type photography.
There are, however, challenges in providing external strobe accessories for mobile multipurpose devices that utilize existing connectors on the mobile multipurpose devices to provide low-latency timing synchronization between the internal strobe and the external strobe accessory.
Apple's invention covers an accessory strobe device that is capable of mirroring the output of an internal (built-in) strobe of a mobile device.
The mobile device may output a strobe control signal that includes information for both a metering strobe state (e.g., metering phase) and a main strobe state (e.g., main (normal) flash phase) of the internal strobe.
The strobe control signal may be provided as output from a single data pin in a data/charging port (e.g., a port that provides both data and power connections). The strobe control signal may include temporally separated pulses that differentiate the metering strobe state and the main strobe state of the internal strobe based on the time and duration of the pulses.
The accessory strobe device may receive the strobe control signal and assess the pulses in the strobe control signal to determine the timing and duration of strobe illumination provided by the accessory strobe device. As the accessory strobe device determines the timing and duration of its illumination based on the time and duration of the pulses for the internal strobe, the accessory strobe may provide illumination that has a predetermined relationship (e.g., is synchronized) in both timing and relative intensity with illumination provided by the internal strobe of the mobile device.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below depicts a representation of an embodiment of a mobile device coupled to an accessory strobe device. FIG. 2 depicts a representation of an embodiment of a mobile device coupled to an accessory strobe device using a wireless device. The device could be an iPhone, iPad, MacBook and more.
In some embodiments, connector #108 is a coded connector. For example, connector #108 may be coded using an authentication chip in the connector. In some embodiments, the authentication chip may be in the body of strobe device #200 or in the body of wireless device #120.
The authentication chip may authorize strobe device as a device of a certain class (e.g., strobe accessory class) that is recognized and/or verified by mobile device when strobe device is connected to the mobile device using connector #108. Strobe device 200 may only receive the strobe control signal from mobile device 100 through connector 108 when the strobe device is authorized (e.g., authenticated) as an accessory of the certain class for the mobile device.
Apple's FIG. 2 depicts a representation of an embodiment of mobile device #100 coupled to accessory strobe device #200 using wireless device #120. The wireless device may be, for example, a wireless dongle or other wireless transmitter/receiver device coupled to port #112 using connector #108 (Lightning port and connector).
In some embodiments, the connector and wireless device are integrated into a single device. The wireless device may be capable of transmitting and receiving signals using one or more wireless transmission protocols such as, but not limited to, IRDA, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 below depicts a block diagram of an embodiment of the strobe device (#200).
For camera buffs, there's a lot of finer details to explore in this patent filing. Check out Apple's patent application number 20210068217 for more.
Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
For the record: The US Patent Office didn't publish today's patent application until sometime after 6 or 6:30 a.m. PST instead of their traditional time frames. This of course delayed our reporting this morning.