Apple researching advanced hybrid fiber optic connectors for iOS devices

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
A pair of patent filings discovered on Thursday reveals Apple may be looking into the deployment of fiber optic systems for iOS devices, as the applications describe an advanced cable and docking system that mates with laser-equipped portable electronic devices.

Optic
Source: USPTO


Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's concurrently filed patent applications for "Optical connection of devices" and a "Hybrid optical connector" reveal an intricate array of connectors, adapters and devices that are able to transfer both electrical and optical signals through fiber optic cables.

Fiber optic designs are well known for their fast transmission speeds, but up to now the technology has yet to penetrate the consumer market due to manufacturing costs and compatibility, among other hurdles. On the other hand, the tried and true method of conductive electrical transfer is ubiquitous. Apple looks to implement the best of both worlds with its patent, joining the technologies in a compact, highly compatible solution.

At their most basic level, the two filings can be thought of as an advanced take on existing technology, which uses conductive metal pins and wires to transfer data. In conjunction with the usual conductive material, the invention runs two fiber optic cables, thereby creating a connector that can carry both electrical and optical signals simultaneously.

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Male and female connectors.


In addition to the benefits of being backwards compatbile with legacy devices through adapters, the use of electrical cabling can provide power, something fiber optic systems lack. The invention refers to this dual-mode system as being "electro-optical."

To operate, the patent calls for an electronic device to have such an electro-optical connector located at its base, the traditional spot for a dock connector. This connector can have any plurality of optical components with which to transmit and receive data. In one example, the system has two optical channels, one for transmission and one for reception, though a single part can be used for both duties. As noted by the filing, electrical signals are converted both into and out of optical signals on-device.

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Exploded view of one connector embodiment.


Once conversion is complete, the device can send out the optical signal over the transmission fiber channel using a laser or other optical transmitter.

The patent points out that the receiving lens is a parabolic concentrator that collects light to send to a photodiode on the device. This setup allows for larger diameter fibers of around 200 to 500 microns, which in turn provides larger tolerances for alignment. By comparison, the Thunderbolt protocol uses two 62.5-micron fibers.

Optic
Lens array and transmission components.


There are a number of connectors described in the patent language, including components that implement springs to protect and align the optical components embedded within. These units range in design, with some calling for small male tongue inserts that can significant reduce housing size, thus allowing room for additional parts or a smaller device.

An alternative means of transferring data is the docking station, which itself can be used to substantially align the fiber optic cabling correctly with a docked portable. In some embodiments, the part can also serve as an inductive charging station.

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Dock with hybrid connector.


As with most Apple filings, it is unclear if the system will be implemented in future products. However, buried deep within the patent language is a description and accompanying illustration of what appears to be Apple's current Lightning connector, suggesting the invention is laying the groundwork for a successor technology.

Optic


Apple's hybrid optical connector patents were first filed for in 2010, with a continuation in 2012, and credit Jason S. Sloey, Albert J. Golko, Eric S. Jol and Ian Spraggsas as their inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34
    entropysentropys Posts: 996member
    For some reason sharks with frikki'n lasers on their heads entered my mind.
  • Reply 2 of 34
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member
    You know what incredible, awesome, advanced connector for iOS devices I'd like to see Apple 'research'?

    A frikkin' iPhone Dock.
  • Reply 3 of 34
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member


    Apple's new secret weapon to defeat Android - the $120 iPod cable.

  • Reply 4 of 34
    cnocbui wrote: »
    Apple's new secret weapon to defeat Android - the $120 iPod cable.

    Coming soon to the iPod Classic apparently. In all seriousness though, this looks awesome and expensive. But with each great new technology comes a great $49 price tag...
  • Reply 5 of 34
    evilutionevilution Posts: 1,261member
    Not sure I see the point. I've never thought "OMG I wish my iDevice would sync 10 seconds quicker". Another connector on the iPhone would just bring the trolls out.

    I'm surprised at the lightning port really as it does have the same limits as the 30 pin dock connector, just smaller and bidirectional. Why they didn't go for a Magsafe connection with the connections available for the optical thunderbolt setup I'll never know.
  • Reply 6 of 34
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 42,969member


    Originally Posted by Evilution View Post

    Why they didn't go for a Magsafe connection with the connections available for the optical thunderbolt setup I'll never know.


     


    Because MagSafe becomes meaningless when the device is less than one and a half pounds. The magnets are either too strong to actually cause a safe break or too weak to mean anything at all. I'm sure they tried one.

  • Reply 7 of 34
    uraharaurahara Posts: 156member
    Could have just used Thunderbolt connection.
    Disappointing that they made an update to USB connection last year but didn't do a faster Thunderbolt connection.
  • Reply 8 of 34
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Evilution View Post



    Not sure I see the point. I've never thought "OMG I wish my iDevice would sync 10 seconds quicker".


     


    You must not sync the amount of data I do. Never mind ten seconds, how about ten MINUTES? Moving 30-40GB over USB2 is not quick.


     


    There are other potential benefits too, like multi-channel and/or multi-format input to and/or output from the device that would be impractical or impossible over an electrical connector with a limited number of pins. iOS devices may or may not yet be fast enough to take advantage of that, but if not I'm sure they soon will be.

  • Reply 9 of 34
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 42,969member


    Originally Posted by Urahara View Post

    Could have just used Thunderbolt connection.


     


    That's what Lightning is for. And no, they couldn't have just used a Thunderbolt port.






    Disappointing that they made an update to USB connection last year but didn't do a faster Thunderbolt connection.



     


    Say, wouldn't it be great if new users wouldn't do this idiotic false concern crap at all, much less when they know absolutely nothing about what they're talking about?

  • Reply 10 of 34
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    This could make the MagSafe connector the only cable one plugs in to "dock" a Mac notebook assuming the optical was Thunderbolt.

    evilution wrote: »
    Why they didn't go for a Magsafe connection with the connections available for the optical thunderbolt setup I'll never know.

    I don't think I understand your comment. You wanted optical, Thunderbolt, and MagSafe to been included on last year's iDevices instead of Lightning.
  • Reply 11 of 34
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    urahara wrote: »
    Could have just used Thunderbolt connection.
    Disappointing that they made an update to USB connection last year but didn't do a faster Thunderbolt connection.

    What would be the benefit of doing that when the internal NAND is likely to do 25MB/s? Bragging rights?
  • Reply 12 of 34
    USB 3.0 SS would be a welcome addition. The current USB 2.0 connector is a joke, and it's still hard to believe Apple introduced it with USB 3.0 already available. Now for USB 3.0 speeds there will need to be another connector change that obsoletes all the Lightning peripherals.

    This is just another example of Thin being prioritized over functionality. Thin is the ONLY benefit of Lightning. Transferring gigabytes of files over it is still like pouring molasses in the dead of winter.


  • Reply 13 of 34
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    USB 3.0 SS would be a welcome addition. The current USB 2.0 connector is a joke, and it's still hard to believe Apple introduced it with USB 3.0 already available. Now for USB 3.0 speeds there will need to be another connector change that obsoletes all the Lightning peripherals.

    This is just another example of Thin being prioritized over functionality. Thin is the ONLY benefit of Lightning. Transferring gigabytes of files over it is still like pouring molasses in the dead of winter.

    If Apple moved to a standard USB connector it would destroyed the peripherals market. Lightning, like the 30-pin connector allows for a great deal more options than simply sticking a micro-USB port in the bottom.

    The only bad thing about lightning is that it wasn't released sooner.

    PS: What does USB 3.0 offer the iPhone that USB 2.0 doesn't?
  • Reply 14 of 34
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 42,969member


    Originally Posted by Junkyard Dawg View Post

    The current USB 2.0 connector is a joke, and it's still hard to believe Apple introduced it with USB 3.0 already available.


     


    But they didn't. They introduced a Lightning connector. You can't yet tell us what that implies.






    Now for USB 3.0 speeds there will need to be another connector change that obsoletes all the Lightning peripherals.



     


    Yeah, that's absolutely incorrect.






    Thin is the ONLY benefit of Lightning.



     


    Getting your BLATANT LIES responded to, even if they're wholly debunked, is the only benefit of trolling.




    Please leave.

  • Reply 15 of 34
    mgsarchmgsarch Posts: 50member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Evilution View Post



    Not sure I see the point. I've never thought "OMG I wish my iDevice would sync 10 seconds quicker". Another connector on the iPhone would just bring the trolls out.



    I'm surprised at the lightning port really as it does have the same limits as the 30 pin dock connector, just smaller and bidirectional. Why they didn't go for a Magsafe connection with the connections available for the optical thunderbolt setup I'll never know.


     


    Yeah, try a 64gb/128gb device sometime. I am with you 100% about the magsafe thing though. I think the lightning connector was a shockingly bad evolution of the iphone dock connector.

  • Reply 16 of 34
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by v5v View Post


     


    You must not sync the amount of data I do. Never mind ten seconds, how about ten MINUTES? Moving 30-40GB over USB2 is not quick.


     


    There are other potential benefits too, like multi-channel and/or multi-format input to and/or output from the device that would be impractical or impossible over an electrical connector with a limited number of pins. iOS devices may or may not yet be fast enough to take advantage of that, but if not I'm sure they soon will be.





    You just have the wrong iPod.  Mine has Firewire.

  • Reply 17 of 34
    THIS has to make you wonder -- I mean Apple JUST released the Lightning connector... Got to wonder why they did not just standardize on Thunderbolt instead!?
  • Reply 18 of 34
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 42,969member


    Originally Posted by libertyforall View Post

    THIS has to make you wonder -- I mean Apple JUST released the Lightning connector... Got to wonder why they did not just standardize on Thunderbolt instead!?


     


    No, it doesn't have to make anyone wonder. Not if they're paying the merest hint of attention in the first place.


     


    There's a reason they didn't out Thunderbolt ports on iDevices. You'll eventually figure out why.

  • Reply 19 of 34
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post


    Say, wouldn't it be great if new users wouldn't do this idiotic false concern crap at all, much less when they know absolutely nothing about what they're talking about?



     


    At the risk of sounding pedantic (and sticking my nose where it doesn't belong), I don't think that's what you guys like to call a "false concern troll." He said he's disappointed, not that he's afraid it's going to hurt Apple. He was honest.

  • Reply 20 of 34
    v5vv5v Posts: 1,357member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


    You just have the wrong iPod.  Mine has Firewire.



     


    Damn, and I just threw away my Firewire AC adaptor. I could have given it to you!


     


    I figured one could still use it for just charging an iPhone or USB-only iPod even if it couldn't carry data, but no.

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