Apple prepares for thinner iPhones with slim headphone plug patent

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2015
Apple has patented a shrunken-down headphone connector that shaves precious volume off existing 3.5mm and 2.5mm jack standards by reshaping the plug, thereby removing -- albeit temporarily -- an inevitable limiting factor in its quest for perpetually thin smartphones.


Source: USPTO


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday issued Apple U.S. Patent No. 9,142,925 for a "D-shaped connector" that replaces the existing low-profile headphone plug and receptacle standard with a shorter, thinner design. This "improved" model would sport all the functionality of a modern 3.5mm TRRS (tip, ring, ring, sleeve) connector, but with a trim profile suitable for use in extremely thin devices.

Much like today's headphone plug, Apple's design features external contacts positioned along a sleeve. Dielectric strips isolate contacts along the sleeve carrying left audio, right audio and microphone signals, while a ground contact lives in the plug's tip. Deviating from current standards, however, is its shape.

Taking on a "D" profile, Apple's plug has one flat side that acts as a keyed feature, meaning it restricts insertion to a matching D-shaped cavity. Some embodiments incorporate a flexible inner member that helps mitigate potential insertion issues, while at the same time reinforcing structural integrity.




Certain embodiments specify a diameter of 2.0mm from the plug's flat portion to its opposite edge, considerably thinner than current products. For a fairly sensitive electronic part, the headphone connector is constantly exposed to mechanical strain. A flexible elastomer or similar material could help cut down on breakage from repeated insertion and extraction operations.

On the device side, Apple describes a D-shaped receptacle protecting an internal mechanism designed to capture the plug, much like regular jacks. The system can be mechanical or magnetic, while some embodiments allow for a spring-loaded ground contact that doubles as a retention feature.




To Apple CDO Jony Ive's dismay, iPhones and iPads can only be as thin as their largest internal component, as evidenced by the "camera bump" on iPhone 6 and 6s. However, unlike the longstanding headphone jack format, camera technology benefits from component miniaturization trends, meaning future iSight modules will likely see size reductions in line with other iPhone innards. As an industry standard, the 3.5mm plug format is ancient compared to its high-tech iPhone component stablemates, and customers have shelled out hundreds or thousands of dollars on compatible hardware.

Apple could bypass TRRS designs altogether and introduce a Lightning-connected headphone, but that would prohibit simultaneous charging. It remains to be seen what Apple has planned, but if its portable device designs get much thinner, the demise of the 3.5mm plug is a near certainty.

Apple's D-shaped connector patent was first filed for in May 2011 and credits Albert J. Golko and Mathias W. Schmidt as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 92
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,580member
    Not exactly something I would want to see in an iPhone. If you are hell bent on going to something non standard you might as well go with a thin flat design similar to Lightening. Further Apple will have to work real hard to make such a connector an industry standard, people are pretty emotional about head phones.
  • Reply 2 of 92
    It's time to improve the jack.
  • Reply 3 of 92
    wizard69 wrote: »
    Not exactly something I would want to see in an iPhone. If you are hell bent on going to something non standard you might as well go with a thin flat design similar to Lightening. Further Apple will have to work real hard to make such a connector an industry standard, people are pretty emotional about head phones.

    I've been talking about the diameter of the 3.5mm a lot recently, which doesn't include the size of the HW internally. My solution is having either the first of two thing, or both things I'm about to mention happen within 1–3 years.

    1) Just move headphones to the Lightning connector (or whoever connector Apple may move to — I'm a big fan of USB-C, and maybe Apple can submit a mini-USB-C that is that the exact same exact 40% smaller in size but with all the greatness to make it thinner than even Lightning). The downside is I'm sure some people like to listen to their headphones whilst changing their iDevice, but I imagine that's likely a very small number, and those weirdos can get a 3rd-party splitter for that. That would mean including EarPods with a Lightning connector which I don't think is a big deal.

    2) The other is BT headphones. This could, of course, mean including BT headphones with every iPhone, but perhaps the cost would be low enough to warrant that. The changing would likely still be via the Lightning port, or USB-C, or the mini-USB-C I mentioned as BT headphones are typically small enough that typical USB-C is a little too big and Lightning is on the cusp. This would also allow playback via the new headphone jack so it wouldn't always have to be BT. That said, I would still think that it's not the most likely avenue for Apple.

    The other benefit of use a USB data capable port — which includes Lightning — is that sensors in the ear phones can help with various biometrics, especially with exercise. This is technically possible with the 4-posiion 3.5mm jack Apple uses, but that's very limited, so I'd think Apple's patents on this would need a USB data capable port of BT to make this feasible.
  • Reply 4 of 92
    19831983 Posts: 1,102member
    wizard69 wrote: »
    Not exactly something I would want to see in an iPhone. If you are hell bent on going to something non standard you might as well go with a thin flat design similar to Lightening. Further Apple will have to work real hard to make such a connector an industry standard, people are pretty emotional about head phones.
    I agree, the world doesn't need or want another proprietary connector. Anyway how much thinner do smartphones need to get? It ultimately just makes them uncomfortable to hold with poorer battery life. Only selfish designers obsessed with thinness want this, not most other people.
  • Reply 5 of 92
    1983 wrote: »
    It ultimately just makes them more difficult to hold with poorer battery life. Only selfish designers obsessed with thinness want this not most other people.

    You're saying the iPhone 6-series has poorer battery life despite being thinner than previous iPhones? I can show you a list where that is not even close to being true.
  • Reply 6 of 92
    19831983 Posts: 1,102member
    solipsismy wrote: »
    You're saying the iPhone 6-series has poorer battery life despite being thinner than previous iPhones? I can show you a list where that is not even close to being true.
    If the iPhone 6 retained the still svelte thickness of the 5S you could be talking about a solid 2 or 3 day battery life instead of what it currently has. There are a lot of people out there I think that would prefer this to ever thinner iPhones.
  • Reply 7 of 92

    "Apple could bypass TRRS designs altogether and introduce a Lightning-connected headphone, but that would prohibit simultaneous charging."

    What about two lightning ports? Or one lightning port and inductive charging.

  • Reply 8 of 92
    1983 wrote: »
    If the iPhone 6 retained the still svelte thickness of the 5S you could be talking about a solid 2 or 3 day battery life instead of what it currently has. There are a lot of people out there I think that would prefer this to ever thinner iPhones.

    1) There's a lot of people out there that think Obama is a Muslim wasn't born in the US of that the moon landing never happened? What's your point?

    2) You said the battery life is getting worse, and yet it's gotten better with a much higher performing system since its inception in 2007.

    3) You wanting 2-3 days of battery life, that's fine, you are entitled to your preference and your odd desire of "If only I could forego plugging it in while I sleep once every 3rd night" can be dealt with with a Mophie Juice Pack or some other product.

    4) Do I want a longer lasting battery? Of course! I want the battery to last indefinitely. I'd love for it to never have to be charged. Same for my Apple Watch, but the only way to get that in a wrist-worn device is to get a watch isn't a smartwatch. I want certain features and so I'm willing to have those balanced with usability, and having to plug my devices in at night before bed for 1–2 hours isn't that big a deal, especially considering the alternative.
  • Reply 9 of 92
    I think part of the allure of the standard 3.5mm headphone jack is its ubiquity. If the jack is made smaller, these devices couldn't work with millions of existing products. I think a better solution would be to either use the Lightning port, or implement a new digital interconnect such as USB-C that could handle full digital audio with multiple audio input/output channels. Then if you want to use an analog connector, make an adapter.
  • Reply 10 of 92

    If they do ship phones requiring the new plug, they'd better come with an adapter to avoid a lot of disgruntlement. That's a pretty big market to fragment. 

  • Reply 11 of 92
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,588moderator
    1983 wrote: »
    If the iPhone 6 retained the still svelte thickness of the 5S you could be talking about a solid 2 or 3 day battery life instead of what it currently has. There are a lot of people out there I think that would prefer this to ever thinner iPhones.

    Apple thinks about the environment, and a smaller battery, multiplied by hundreds of millions of iPhones (across all generations) means a smaller impact, less volume of chemicals/metals to eventually need recycling, or that ends up in a landfill. And smaller batteries implies Apple pushes themselves to engineer more efficient phones that provide each unit of performance at lower power, which means that each daily charge requires less electricity than competing phones. That reduces greenhouse gasses and the need, even slightly, for the world to build that next coal-fired power plant. I've mentioned this before and people suggest that reasoning is weak, but I'm here to tell you Apple does think about precisely these aspects and it's a big reason the company doesn't ship phones with larger batteries.
  • Reply 12 of 92
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,588member
    I'm looking forward to the ones that can transmit directly to the brain, by passing the rapidly deteriorating middle ear's silly bone vibrating nonsense, so I can hear really well again.
  • Reply 13 of 92

    What would be fun would be some exec at Apple laughing his/her ass off, imagining the competition scrambling to get their connectors done :p

  • Reply 14 of 92
    1983 wrote: »
    If the iPhone 6 retained the still svelte thickness of the 5S you could be talking about a solid 2 or 3 day battery life instead of what it currently has. There are a lot of people out there I think that would prefer this to ever thinner iPhones.

    I think a lot more people would prefer a thinner phone. It looks sleek to the competition and it matters to sales. I'm fine with charging overnight every day.
  • Reply 15 of 92
    Thinner iPhones?

    It'll never happen.

    I call bullshit on this rumour.
  • Reply 16 of 92
    croprcropr Posts: 841member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post



    Not exactly something I would want to see in an iPhone. If you are hell bent on going to something non standard you might as well go with a thin flat design similar to Lightening. Further Apple will have to work real hard to make such a connector an industry standard, people are pretty emotional about head phones.

    A new standard might be welcome, but it cannot be not based on a patent.  Patents lead to higher product costs, so one can expect that the new head phones will be more expensive.  This is OK for the > 100$ models, but nor the cheaper ones

  • Reply 17 of 92
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,694member

    This design is not compelling at all. In an age where we're seeing a move away from orientation specific plugs this is a step in the wrong direction. A ham fisted brute or child with anything that can serve as a hammer could probably cause considerable damage by forcing the plug into the hole the wrong way. The sharp edges are also likely to loosen up with use. Interesting contender but not a winner.

     

    Apple and other vendors should think about skipping over ideas of making the current mechanical version of the headphone connector more compact and move directly to a new style connector that everyone can agree on. If you're going to disrupt what is a defacto industry standard - do it one time and not in several incremental steps that lead to pockets full of dongles hell. I'm thinking a variation of the smart connector found on the new iPad Pro may be a candidate, or perhaps something that uses inductive coupling and a self aligning magnetic positioner, a la MagSafe. In my humble opinion and for the sake of consumers, this is an area where Apple should partner with a consortium of audio product vendors to arrive at a commonly accepted standard rather than doing something proprietary. This assumes that we'll still need hard connections at all. But until Bluetooth is totally idiot proof and zero config the assurance of a very simple snap & go "physical" connector that doesn't impose limitations on product designers from a physical geometry or energy consumption standpoint would be mighty compelling.

  • Reply 18 of 92
    Can we please get rid of the home button too now??
  • Reply 19 of 92
    I thought Apple was getting away from directional connectors, as evidenced by the lightning connector ! *rolls eyes*
  • Reply 20 of 92
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,408member

    It’s a patent. It doesn’t mean Apple is going to actually use it. Companies patent lots of things they never use. Chill out.

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