Apple patent for stackable Smart Connector plugs improves iPad versatility

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2016
An Apple patent published Tuesday details work on a magnetic connector interface akin to the recently introduced Smart Connector, but instead of being limited to one accessory, the proposed design can stack plugs to mate with and support multiple peripherals.




As awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,300,083 for a "Stackable magnetically-retained connector interface" outlines a method by which two or more plugs feeding peripheral devices can be stacked vertically, one atop the other, on a single surface-mounted connector.

The document lays out two potential embodiments, one featuring two contacts and another with three contacts. Both embodiments include a magnetic retention mechanism that aligns, mates and secures accessories or accessory cables without the usual spring-loaded clips, prongs or other form of physical attachment.

For reference, Smart Connector, available on 9.7- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, uses a three-pin configuration for power, ground and data.




Apple proposes a variety of format options for the connector body, including designs built in to Lightning connectors. One version looks like an Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Cable, but with a set of three Smart Connector contacts instead of the usual inductive charger hardware. Another features bare contacts laid out in concentric rings, a common design seen in Apple patents covering wireless charging technology. Stackable plugs sport contacts on both sides, though single-ended variants are possible.

When the magnetic connector mates with a host device, either directly or through the stack, the attached peripheral sends a signal informing onboard detection circuitry that a positive connection was made. Said signal also provides information regarding the plug's orientation, a critical piece of information for correct power and data routing. The control process is managed by routing circuitry on the host device and, for power, one or more microcontrollers.




As an example, a successfully connected pair of earphones would mate with a host device, signal successful plug mating and request power and audio data. Similarly, an AC/DC adapter would signal availability of extra power for charging the host device and its connected accessories. Apple says any number of peripherals can benefit from its stackable architecture, including battery packs, keyboards, external storage units and more.

Working off a single port, the method is much more compact than the usual array of USB, Thunderbolt and headphone jack ports seen on modern computers. In addition, the general lack of moving parts, save for spring-loaded pogo contacts, makes for a robust interface nearly immune to daily wear and tear.

Along with a host iOS device, Apple suggests connector stacking might be useful in a docking station, providing hands-free viewing or data offloading technology for a variety of devices. A dock might also include conversion circuitry and support for common connector formats, allowing it to serve as a universal adapter.




It is not known if the current Smart Connector iteration has the bandwidth to support a stackable connector architecture. However, if and when the patented technology becomes available it would address a major concern for consumers looking for thin-and-light laptop replacements, namely iPad's limited expansion options.

Apple's stackable magnetic connector patent was first filed for in September 2014 and credits Nathan P. Bosscher, Eric S. Jol, Albert J. Golko, Jeffrey J. Terlizzi and Jahan C. Minoo as its inventors.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    The iCephalopod connector!
    brakken
  • Reply 2 of 21
    Potentially a solution for a future variant of the 12-inch MacBook, with its single port needing to connect to multiple devices.
    brakkenbadmonk
  • Reply 3 of 21
    A way for Apple to combine charging and data into the old magsafe charging solutions, if only they would fix the cable quality issue with their chargers and cables... definitely a good solution for the problem of reducing the number of ports on devices, new plug for the Macbook which should now transfer data and charge at the same time?...

    Apple teases NEW Apple Pencil (2.0) on latest iPad video - Now with eraser Check it out; 





  • Reply 4 of 21
    irelandireland Posts: 17,785member
    That rumoured smart connector for iPhone 7 and its location leave room for a battery case without a chin and an opportunity to dock comfortably and be nicer looking then existing battery cases. But please for the love of all that is holy don't make iPhone 7 thinner, Apple. Wait for iPhone 8 (or later) to go thinner, use this two-year duration to keep boosting battery life and at that point only make thinner if you can retain iPhone 7s battery life or greater. Battery life is Ok now but most people want good battery life without the need to buy and add a battery case.

    SE was a very good design choice for this reason. Less lines, no camera bump, dual-cameras and OIS on all '7' models, superior battery-life, double the speed; things like this.
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 5 of 21
    brakkenbrakken Posts: 687member
    I hope the dock connector supercedes Lightning. 

  • Reply 6 of 21
    brakken said:
    I hope the dock connector supercedes Lightning. 

    Even better if it supersedes the Lightning connector.
  • Reply 7 of 21
    how about the connection status when the user need to withdraw the middle layer device or the one below the top layer device?
  • Reply 8 of 21
    cincyteecincytee Posts: 374member
    I see someone at Apple has plugged in strands of Christmas lights before ... and then made the same idea far more elegant. Very smart and intuitive.
  • Reply 9 of 21
    why-why- Posts: 305member
    Seems like they'll be putting this to use on the on iPhone 7, fix that whole no headphone jack thing
    edited March 2016
  • Reply 10 of 21
    I'm guessing this is so that a smart cover/case with a smart connector built in can be docked.
  • Reply 11 of 21
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    ireland said:
    That rumoured smart connector for iPhone 7 and its location leave room for a battery case without a chin and an opportunity to dock comfortably and be nicer looking then existing battery cases. But please for the love of all that is holy don't make iPhone 7 thinner, Apple. Wait for iPhone 8 (or later) to go thinner, use this two-year duration to keep boosting battery life and at that point only make thinner if you can retain iPhone 7s battery life or greater. Battery life is Ok now but most people want good battery life without the need to buy and add a battery case.

    SE was a very good design choice for this reason. Less lines, no camera bump, dual-cameras and OIS on all '7' models, superior battery-life, double the speed; things like this.
    wait -- when has Apple ever released an iPhone with worse battery life than the previous version? never. never would be when Apple has done that, despite each generation getting thinner. 
  • Reply 12 of 21
    SoliSoli Posts: 10,033member
    So many wonderful possibilities here.
    justadcomics
  • Reply 13 of 21
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    ireland said:
    That rumoured smart connector for iPhone 7 and its location leave room for a battery case without a chin and an opportunity to dock comfortably and be nicer looking then existing battery cases. But please for the love of all that is holy don't make iPhone 7 thinner, Apple. Wait for iPhone 8 (or later) to go thinner, use this two-year duration to keep boosting battery life and at that point only make thinner if you can retain iPhone 7s battery life or greater. Battery life is Ok now but most people want good battery life without the need to buy and add a battery case.

    SE was a very good design choice for this reason. Less lines, no camera bump, dual-cameras and OIS on all '7' models, superior battery-life, double the speed; things like this.
    wait -- when has Apple ever released an iPhone with worse battery life than the previous version? never. never would be when Apple has done that, despite each generation getting thinner. 
    The 6S is thicker than the 6
  • Reply 14 of 21
    calicali Posts: 3,494member
    brakken said:
    I hope the dock connector supercedes Lightning. 

    Even better if it supersedes the Lightning connector.
    Not sure what you two mean but I've been wanting Apple to give iPhone an Apple Watch charging cable that snaps onto the Apple logo on the back.

    More so if they're actually getting rid of the headphone jack and developing lightning headphones. 
  • Reply 15 of 21
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    This patent reminds me of  stacking magnetic headphone connectors I bought for my daughter;


  • Reply 16 of 21
    evilutionevilution Posts: 1,398member
    Just give me a magsafe style charging connection for this and I'll be happy.

  • Reply 17 of 21
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,454member
    cnocbui said:
    wait -- when has Apple ever released an iPhone with worse battery life than the previous version? never. never would be when Apple has done that, despite each generation getting thinner. 
    The 6S is thicker than the 6
    But not where it counts for the purposes of this comment as the screen got thicker. In fact the battery inside the 6s got smaller. I wouldn't exactly call the "S" models generational either. 
  • Reply 18 of 21
    I am not sure if this can be patentable. Maybe in USPTO that yet agian does very poor research on innovation. This type of things for power and signals (banana plugs) existed since '90 I own few of them. So where is innovation?
  • Reply 19 of 21
    I think this patent is about creating a stackable network connection, a multiple devices connected for difference purposes, eg.: power source from the top layer, a headphone in the middle and connect to the Mac or other "iDevice" on third, etc..
    and it seems this is not connected by plug or socket.
  • Reply 20 of 21
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    I am not sure if this can be patentable. Maybe in USPTO that yet agian does very poor research on innovation. This type of things for power and signals (banana plugs) existed since '90 I own few of them. So where is innovation?
    Patents are about a specific implementation, not the idea of stackable connectors. Apple's patent is relates to lightning connectors and MagSafe  couplings which are probably not covered by prior art. Besides which it would make sense to patent it now and worry about prior art if it gets challenged. 
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