Wednesday, July 30, 2008

iPod Air: Rotating Dock And Inductive Recharging?

Patent #7,352,567 issued April 1, 2008 -- Methods and apparatuses for docking a portable electronic device that has a planar like configuration and that operates in multiple orientations -- is worth revisiting in light of recent rumors of a larger-screen iPod Touch (which I have been calling an iPod Air).

This patent summary:
A docking system is disclosed. The docking system includes a portable electronic device capable of operating in multiple orientations including vertical and horizontal. The docking system also includes a docking station configured to mechanically accept and operatively interface with the portable electronic device in any of its multiple orientations including vertical and horizontal.

This is one illustration, displaying a proposed dock with specific cut-outs for two orientations, portrait and landscape:

This illustration is much more intriguing, however, as it allows free rotation of the handheld:

That seems more like the kind of innovative feature Apple is best known for.

Notice that neither of these docks seem to be particularly portable. The second one, in fact, seems more along the lines of a fashion statement. (How cool would that be to have at bedside?)

Another intriguing feature of the patent is the possibility of refilling the battery via inductive charging:
Recently, inductive charging units have been implemented in electronic devices, the most famous of which is the Sonic Care toothbrush manufactured by Philips of the Netherlands. The toothbrush and the charging dock form the two part transformer with the primary induction coil contained in the dock and the secondary induction coil contained in the toothbrush. When the end of toothbrush is placed in a cavity of the dock, the complete transform is created and the induced current in the secondary coil charges the battery.

Inductive charging pads have also been developed. The pad works similar to the toothbrush, however, the pad typically includes multiple transformers so that the electronic device can be placed in any orientation on the pad. When the electronic device is placed on the pad, one of the transformers of the pad induces current in the transformer of the electronic device, and this current charges the battery of the electronic device. Unfortunately, the efficiency of the transform is not very good since the transformer located on the electronic device typically does not align with the transformers of the pad, i.e., does not create closed magnetic loop and therefore there is no direct inductive coupling.

I'm not an EE, so I can't speak to any possible ramifications that might have. However, since the patent illustrations primarily show a connector that is circular in shape, it makes me wonder if an iPod Air will require a new set of cables for portable syncing as well as offer new opportunities for third party manufacturers to develop larger audio accessories.

Apple doesn't always immediately use every patent it files. But this one I think offers a glimpse into the future of a possible iPod Air.

No comments: