Apple has a new patent application published by the USPTO (via AppleInsider) that describes an iPhone outfitted for the new Lightning-sporting models. Apple has offered iPhone docks in the past with RCA and 3.5mm audio passthrough for stereo connectivity. This new patent could indeed offer audio output, as is mentioned in the title of the application, but it also includes options like wireless communication, proximity sensors, a touch-sensitive display and support for also connecting to and charging accessories, including (though it isn’t mentioned specifically by name) the Apple Watch.
The patent application, first filed in 2013, could help explain why Apple hasn’t yet released a dock for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, if it’s working on something more full-featured with extended support for all Lightning devices. Of course, it’s equally possible that Apple was more content to leave that side of the business in the hands of third-party accessory makers, and this patent, like so many others, only represents an effort to get legal protection for an idea dreamed up by an engineer that won’t become a real product.
Still, there are certain conditions that make this an attractive possibility for Apple to pursue: One is the Apple Watch, and the other is HomeKit. As described in the patent, the new dock invention would allow for accessory charging in addition to the main iPhone docking, depending on the final configuration, and could offer induction-based charging methods for both accessories and future iPhones with that feature built-in. The dock would also be able to communicate with connected appliances and home accessories thanks to its built-in Wi-Fi.
That could help it become a central hub for use with HomeKit, the framework Apple is using to make connected hardware and Internet of Things devices controllable via Siri and voice commands. It had been rumored that a refreshed Apple TV device could act as that central hub in the future, but a dock might make more sense and have a wider appeal for iPhone owners.
Other variable features for the dock include possible LED display indicators to show charge level, audio mode and active data connections, for instance, as well as proximity sensors that can be used to trigger display features when a user’s hand comes close. Finally, the application also mentions support for various audio and video output capabilities.
Apple probably doesn’t need to make this gadget to get consumers interested in Apple Watch and HomeKit, but if both of those take off in a big way, it becomes a much easier sell for shoppers who are wholly invested in the Apple ecosystem. Like any patent or patent application, it’s definitely not a product roadmap, but it is an interesting possibility given the current slate of Apple hardware offerings.
Top photo courtesy of dock+