Future Lightning cables may create a water-tight seal when connected to the iPhone

Posted:
in General Discussion
Apple is continuing to find ways to make its devices more water resistant by protecting its ports from liquids, with the iPhone producer considering the possibility of adding elements to Lightning or similar connectors to create a "liquid-tight seal" when connected.

The Lightning port and speaker holes of the iPhone XR
The Lightning port and speaker holes of the iPhone XR


Apple has worked to make its flagship devices, the iPhone, as resistant to water as possible, increasing the protection over time to make the sudden immersion of the smartphone into water less harmful to the device. There is still room for improvement, including the possibility of adding extra elements to the relatively large gap created by the Lightning port to prevent any liquid ingress, which could potentially harm the internal components over time.

Granted on Tuesday and published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's patent for "Sealed electronic connectors for electronic devices" attempts to solve just such a problem, by coming up with a variety of different ways a connector can be modified to protect against the elements once inserted into the port.

It is worth noting that this is not an entirely new area for Apple. In June, the company was granted an extremely similar patent for "Sealed accessories for electronic devices," and while the text is similar in terms of the discussed concepts, the accompanying diagrams from that patent are largely similar to the versions shown in the newly-granted version.

Diagram explaining the use of extended compressible sheathing to create a seal
Diagram explaining the use of extended compressible sheathing to create a seal


The most recent patent explains that a plug connector entering a port is not necessarily capable of holding back water, but the addition of elements on the plug or within the device itself could create a liquid-tight seal when the two are mated.

In one scenario, the sheathing around the connector extends away from the outer shell. When inserted into a port, this sheathe could be pressed down by the edges of the port's opening, creating the seal, while a retention mechanism holds the plug in place until it is released by the user.

This extra material cold be as little as 0.25 millimeters and as much as 2 millimeters away from the main body in this extension, and is produced from a silicone-like material. The deformable seal could also be produced using an elastomeric material, with a hardness between 5 and 80 Shore A, with a similar extension distance to the silicone version.

A key addition in this patent compared with the earlier version is the suggestion of an external covering to protect the port itself when there isn't a connector inserted.

Diagram showing the use of a covering to protect the port when unused, and a line feed for a vacuum pump
Diagram showing the use of a covering to protect the port when unused, and a line feed for a vacuum pump


To help ensure a tight seal, the patent suggests the use of a port that has a smaller aperture than the tab of the connector, one which expands as the connector is wedged into place. Such a deformable peripheral seal would help prevent the electrical contacts within the port from coming into contact with liquids, and would spring back into place when the port and connector are disconnected.

Similar to last time, the resulting seals can be improved upon by the use of a small vacuum pump extracting air from the cavity inside the port once the connector is inserted. By creating a vacuum, this can suck the connector into the port, applying more pressure to deformable seals and further reducing the possibility of ingress.

Users would theoretically trigger a release valve to break the vacuum if they wish to disconnect the two components.

The patent goes on to suggest that the pump could be motor controlled, though in order to save space and cost, it may not necessarily be a motor just used for creating a vacuum. It is suggested a motor could switch between being used for pumping and to power haptic feedback by vibrating, or even to drive a speaker.

Apple applies for numerous patents on a weekly basis, covering a wide variety of areas. While the existence of a patent or application isn't a guarantee that it will make an appearance in a future consumer device, it does at least indicate areas of interest for the iPhone producer.

Aside from the similar earlier patent, Apple has also looked into the possibility of using self-healing elastomers to protect connectors and ports since late 2015. Apple has also suggested the use of a port that uses a mesh "umbrella" to deflect liquids from an audio channel, effectively helping prevent water from interfering with speakers.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 28
    It seems to me that, in its portable products like iPhones and Apple Watches, Apple is getting away from ports as much as possible.

    The Apple Watch has only a single port that is only used by centralized Apple repair facilities (not even Genius Bars) for diagnostics.

    And, the iPhone at this point could technically eliminate its lightening port connector completely and still remain completely functional:  charging and audio connections no longer have to depend on the lightening port.  (But CarPlay and iTunes still need some work).

    I expect that, at some point, we will see an iPhone without either ports or buttons.  Just a slab of glass wrapped in a continuous, seamless band of 7000 series alloy "Aluuminium"

    The one button I would hate to see go though is the quiet button where I can silence the phone without turning it on.  That's nice.
    berndogmac_128
  • Reply 2 of 28
    I like how this patent goes from the trivial (a gasket to secure the seal) to the mind-boggling (openings smaller than the plug and teeny tiny vacuum pumps). 
  • Reply 3 of 28
    I find it hard to believe Apple is really focusing on developing lighting anymore. It's already 6 years old, so presumably in its later half. They also shifter the new iPads to USB C, this will already kill like a fifth of the lighting user base. I sortof don't think it will be next year, but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    dewmeSpamSandwichGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 4 of 28
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    GeorgeBMacmac_128
  • Reply 5 of 28
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,563member
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging

    That's what I was thinking.

    USB-C for the iPad and Mac
    No ports at all for the iPhone. Then they can make it thin enough to shave with.
    curtis hannahberndogGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 6 of 28
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for efficiency in powering a device.
    edited November 2018 netroxbaconstangmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 7 of 28
    Rayz2016 said:
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging

    That's what I was thinking.

    USB-C for the iPad and Mac
    No ports at all for the iPhone. Then they can make it thin enough to shave with.
    I do supect your probably right. It just depends how "pro" they want these new IPhones to be, the iPhone XS Max is already a good contenedor to something like the iPhone XR+iPad(roughly same price between the two), I don't know if they are trying to market the X series as the iPhone Pro yet, so...
  • Reply 8 of 28
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,563member
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for powering a device.
    Yes, and wired networks are faster than wireless ones. But when was the last time you saw anyone plug in a network cable?

    mac_128
  • Reply 9 of 28
    My Lightning ports are already water-resistant. I use magnetic charging adapters (about $3 including cord from China on eBay) and put dielectric grease on the adapter before inserting it. Since it never needs to be removed from the port, the grease is never wiped off.
    berndog
  • Reply 10 of 28
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for efficiency in powering a device.
    Until the port gets clogged with dirt and the connectors get broken trying to clean it.   Those lightening ports are maybe the primary cause of failure on an iPhone at this point.   Plus, Apple could use the space to give it a bigger battery.
  • Reply 11 of 28
    Rayz2016 said:
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for powering a device.
    Yes, and wired networks are faster than wireless ones. But when was the last time you saw anyone plug in a network cable?

    Me!
    I have all 4 ports of my router used up. 
    (stationary financial laptop, 2 desktops, and modem for my VOIP landline.)

    But I get your point.
    baconstang
  • Reply 12 of 28
    If they really want to retain a power/data "port" ... why not just go with a magnetic contact port like the iPad pros use to connect the keyboards? ... maybe it would take up more internal room, I don't know.
    mac_128
  • Reply 13 of 28
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,164member
    I like how this patent goes from the trivial (a gasket to secure the seal) to the mind-boggling (openings smaller than the plug and teeny tiny vacuum pumps). 
    Not just any teeny tiny vacuum pumps they are Apple teeny tiny vacuum pumps ;)
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 14 of 28
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,164member
    Rayz2016 said:
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for powering a device.
    Yes, and wired networks are faster than wireless ones. But when was the last time you saw anyone plug in a network cable?

    Mmmm.. to be honest my entire playroom is 100% ethernet, 5 Macs and 3 PCs and a TimeCapsule.  The rest of the house is all wifi I'll grant you.
    baconstangGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 15 of 28
    I'm super disenchanted with the Lightning connector. Two iPhone SE's in a row have had problems maintaining a charging connection. The cable is connected, but I need to wiggle around to find the exact spot where a power connection is made. I always thought the Lightning connection was a serious upgrade over the 30-pin connector but I never had this problem with that older connector over 8 years, not once. So far, two SE's in two years have given me grief to no end.

    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 16 of 28
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,413member
    I'm super disenchanted with the Lightning connector. Two iPhone SE's in a row have had problems maintaining a charging connection. The cable is connected, but I need to wiggle around to find the exact spot where a power connection is made. I always thought the Lightning connection was a serious upgrade over the 30-pin connector but I never had this problem with that older connector over 8 years, not once. So far, two SE's in two years have given me grief to no end.

    And in my direct experience 3 SEs in use, an iPhone 5S still in use, and a 5C still in use, all with perfectly functioning Lightning ports. My iPhone 4 on the other hand, constant problems with the 30-pin dock connector.
  • Reply 17 of 28
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,413member

    I find it hard to believe Apple is really focusing on developing lighting anymore. It's already 6 years old, so presumably in its later half. They also shifter the new iPads to USB C, this will already kill like a fifth of the lighting user base. I sortof don't think it will be next year, but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    I kind of doubt the iPhone will ever go to USB-C. I think the Lightning port will persevere a couple of more years until wireless charging can replace it. Wireless backups will handle most customers needs, while something like the SmartConnector could replace Lightning for those who need to make a physical connection for any reason.

    Im just wondering why Apple would ever see the need to waterproof the inserted Lightning connection with a device. Is it in case it gets knocked off the counter into the toilet while charging? I can't say my iPhone has ever been in jeopardy of being knocked into water while a Lightning cable was plugged into it. I suppose I could have knocked my coffee cup over while it was plugged in, but how often does that happen?
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 18 of 28
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,287member

    Rayz2016 said:
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for powering a device.
    Yes, and wired networks are faster than wireless ones. But when was the last time you saw anyone plug in a network cable?

    I use wired connections whenever I can. Faster and more reliable. A wired connection virtually always trumps a wireless in every way except convenience. Even the convenience trumps wireless sometimes. 
    It seems to me that, in its portable products like iPhones and Apple Watches, Apple is getting away from ports as much as possible.

    The Apple Watch has only a single port that is only used by centralized Apple repair facilities (not even Genius Bars) for diagnostics.

    And, the iPhone at this point could technically eliminate its lightening port connector completely and still remain completely functional:  charging and audio connections no longer have to depend on the lightening port.  (But CarPlay and iTunes still need some work).

    I expect that, at some point, we will see an iPhone without either ports or buttons.  Just a slab of glass wrapped in a continuous, seamless band of 7000 series alloy "Aluuminium"

    The one button I would hate to see go though is the quiet button where I can silence the phone without turning it on.  That's nice.
    multiple problems with getting rid of the lightning port.

    First (and this is one of the biggest,) CarPlay requires a wired connection. I know they have developed a wifi protocol for it, but I've only heard of one aftermarket stereo that supports it, so for all intents and purposes it's a wired protocol. Beyond that, even if some manufacturers start adopting the wifi protocol, eliminating the port would make the phones incompatible with every existing CarPlay car out there.

    Many cars don't have a stable flat place to place a phone, either. With a cable, I can have my phone in a cup holder, in my lap, on the dashboard - wherever. It still works fine.

    Second, having a wired port is critical for recovery purposes. Granted, this is a rare occurrence, but look at the situation last week where WatchOS bricked people's watches and they were forced to send them in.

    Charging via a cable is faster and more efficient than wireless. Currently, Qi charging mats are roughly 65% efficient - That's a ton of wasted energy. All the people who carry a battery pack or a battery case around to charge their phone would suddenly be getting 35% less charge out of them. Because signal strength falls of exponentially, cases have a significant effect on both efficiency and speed of charging, and if you have one of those pop holders on the back of your phone you can forget about it.

    Finally, a direct financial reason for Apple not to eliminate the port is cost. Charging pads are significantly more expensive than cables. If Apple were to skip the lightning port, they would have to include a charging mat with every phone. Given the fact that they are too cheap to include a better USB power adapter or a 3.5mm headphone adapter, it's hard to see them including a charging mat.






    edited November 2018 curtis hannah
  • Reply 19 of 28
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,287member

    I'm super disenchanted with the Lightning connector. Two iPhone SE's in a row have had problems maintaining a charging connection. The cable is connected, but I need to wiggle around to find the exact spot where a power connection is made. I always thought the Lightning connection was a serious upgrade over the 30-pin connector but I never had this problem with that older connector over 8 years, not once. So far, two SE's in two years have given me grief to no end.

    take some compressed air or a toothpick and clean out the port. If some lint gets down in the bottom of the port it can prevent the plug from seating properly and cause the symptoms you describe.
    curtis hannahGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 20 of 28
    Rayz2016 said:
    jason98 said:
     but in 2020 or 2021 the iPhone will probably go USB C.
    more likely no ports at all in favor of faster wireless charging
    You can’t beat physics. A wired connection will always beat wireless for powering a device.
    Yes, and wired networks are faster than wireless ones. But when was the last time you saw anyone plug in a network cable?

    **Raises hand**

    And yes, I use a 15" MacBook Pro at work. I also plug in my Mac mini at home even though it has wireless and it would be one less cable running along the floor. Same goes for my AppleTV. It never runs off wireless....always plugged into the router with ethernet. 
    GeorgeBMac
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