updated 02:00 am EDT, Wed August 17, 2011
Perhaps new method of 'hiding' 3G antenna?
Just days after a prototype MacBook Pro with a built-in 3G antenna appeared for auction on Ebay (since removed), the company has been granted a patent on an integrated wireless antenna system that is "hidden" in keys on a notebook keyboard, perhaps demonstrating a superior way of adding 3G (or other wireless) communication to future models. The patent lists Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but also mentions GPS and 3G as possible connections, AppleInsider reports.
The patent describes the "key antennas" as small transmitters mounted inside individual keys, and could simply be an idea for improving the existing design of wireless antennas in notebooks, which often have to be encased in ceramic material to avoid metal contact and signal degradation. It could also be an improvement of the way Macs and iOS devices can in some cases share their internet connection, acting as limited-range transmitters.
The Ebay prototype (seen below) dates from 2007 and features an embedded SIM card slot as well as a built-in lid antenna with an extendable design to move the antenna away from the metal body. The "antenna in keys on keyboard" patent just granted not only hides antennas in select keys, but allows for a miniscule amount of separation between the antenna and the conductive housing when a key is not being pressed.
The design describes keys with an antenna resonating element (like a flex circuit) with a strip of conductor material (stamped metal foil) and a length of wire. The patent even suggests such a keyboard could include indicator lights such as the "caps lock" key indicator.
The patent for in-key antenna was first filed in April, 2008. If the prototype seen on Ebay is genuine, this would suggest that Apple rejected the idea of the extendable antenna, perhaps as being contrary to their design standards or for other practical reasons and re-approached the issue from another angle. The patent application lists Chris Ligtenberg, Brett William Degner and Douglas Blake Kough as inventors. [via AppleInsider]