updated 10:10 pm EDT, Wed August 17, 2011
May be hint of future without 30-pin connector
In addition to winning design patents for the original iPod and iPod Nano along with the fabrication process behind the touchscreen used by the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple was awarded a patent yesterday for a feature that has not yet appeared: a method for integrating MagSafe-type connectors into iOS devices. It is unclear if the patent, which was filed for last year, suggests future models with alternate charging schemes or if it was simply a proposal that was ultimately unused.
Apple's proprietary 30-pin dock connector, currently used by all iOS devices, combines power charging, video and audio, and data transfer -- and can be compatible with other connectors through the use of adapters (such as Apple's own VGA and USB adapters). The company is, however, well-known for its quest to make connectors ever smaller and thinner.
The patent specifically mentions that the magnetic coupling described in the application "may be a power connector such as the MagSafe" but leaves the door open for other iterations -- for example, a magnetically-secured Thunderbolt port, a smaller connector that is also capable of transferring power, media and data.
It could also be that the company was at one point considering the option of using MagSafe connectors to power future iOS models, separating the data into another port that couldn't itself carry sufficient power to charge all iOS devices, such as a micro-USB port. So far, Apple has not made any moves that would indicate an imminent replacement for the 30-pin dock connector.
The patent is numbered 7,997,906 and lists Apple employees Chris Ligtenberg, John DiFonzo and Bret Degner as inventors. [via PatentlyApple]