The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Tuesday published dozens of Apple patent grants on its website, among them an invention describing a docking station for portable devices with a flexible Lighting connector.
First revealed in March 2014 and then filed in October 2014, the U.S. Patent 8,986,029 titled ‘Dock connector with compliance mechanism’ outlines a compliance mechanism in the iOS device dock that flexes when the connector is stressed in order to pivot the connector at a point where the connector protrudes from the dock housing.
The solution improves the durability and flexibility of the docking station. Apple notes that the compliance mechanism may include any or all of a flexure, a torsion bar, damping members, a compressive foam member and an engineered base plate.
Compliant movements include sliding, translation, flexures, rotation, sliding, rolling, pivoting and more.
In one embodiment, a mounted device can be manually pushed forward while docked, causing the Lighting connector to rotate or pivot within the docking station to compensate for the movement.
“The compliance mechanism may be configured to provide sufficient rigidity to the connector to support a portable device when mounted on the connector within the dock in an upright position, sufficient flexibility to allow angular displacement of a mounted portable device, and sufficient elasticity to provide a resilient biasing force to return the connector and a mounted portable device from a displaced position to the upright position,” reads the patent abstract.
While the patent doesn’t mention Lighting I/O by its name, the associated patent drawings clearly depict the interface used on current iOS devices and introduced back in 2012 as a replacement for a decade-old 30-pin Dock connector.
However, Apple could be moving to adopt the new USB Type-C connector standard across its products, a process that began with the release of the new MacBook with a twelve-inch Retina screen and USB Type-C port.
People quick on the draw could point out that Apple would be shooting itself in the foot by ditching Lighting I/O for USB Type-C due to significant investments in the iOS accessories ecosystem and lack of advanced functions on the new USB standard which Lighting I/O makes possible.
On the other hand, USB Type-C is gaining support from key industry players and looks set to become an industry standard sooner than later.
Another thing to keep in mind: the European Parliament ruled in March 2014 that Apple must incorporate standard Micro-USB charging connector on iPhones, iPod touch and iPads by 201.
Of course, Apple could opt for a simpler solution involving shipping a lightning-to-micro-USB connector with future iOS devices. The patent credits Apple engineers Michael Webb, Ian Colahan and Paul Thompson.