A new Apple patent application published by the USPTO today describes a magnetic connector similar to the one used to attach Smart Covers to the current iPad, but designed to be far more flexible with a variety of possible accessory combinations. It’s a smart connector system that could recognize the attached peripheral and change functionality accordingly.
The types of peripherals described in the patent are many and varied, and include things like speaker docks, trackpads and keyboards, drawing tablets, radio wave antennas, cameras, game controllers and card readers. There’s also a provision which describes how two iPads might be linked together via an intermediary magnetic hinge dock that connects to the smart magnetic link in each.
It could work either with basic magnets, or with electromagnets that can be turned on or off using controls built into iOS, according to the filing, which would allow you to theoretically ‘lock’ accessories in place, including docks that simply stand the iPad up or hold it on a positionable mount for different viewing angles.
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The system’s flexibility doesn’t end there, however – Apple also describes various in-car mounts for connecting an iPad to your vehicle’s dash or headrests, as well as to a treadmill or other gym equipment. Each could be a simple enough magnetic connection with no attendant change in functionality, but the patent also describes how they could complete a circuit, too, to deliver power, and communicate with the attached peripherals to transfer specific kinds of data back and forth.
Finally, there’s mention of wearable tech that could be used to trigger the magnetic sensor and prompt various behaviour from the iPad. This could take the form of a ring, for instance, which when worn by the user would do things like unlock the iPad when the hand it’s on is waved deliberately across the tablet’s screen. In the context of other Apple wearable rumors making the rounds, this could theoretically also work with magnetic connectors built into some kind of iWatch, possibly for identification and unlocking purposes as well as for simple proximity-based communication with certain apps.
The system described in this patent is elaborate and filled with potential, but it’s worth noting that peripherals connected via the Lightning port can do some of the things depicted in the application. Still, were Apple to actively invest in putting this into shipping iPads, it would no doubt open up a world of possibility for accessory makers. Connections that don’t require physical I/O, and that could automatically prompt different behavior from an iOS device and from specific apps would significantly enrich the already vibrant appcessory ecosystem.
Apple already has magnets within the iPad’s chassis, so space constraints for components aren’t necessarily a huge concern, and this could easily be a focus feature for an iPad generational revision, especially in lieu of form factor or display changes. Apple patents rarely make their way intact into shipping hardware, but in this case, I’m holding out hope we do see something similar make its way to consumer hands.