updated 11:31 am EDT, Wed June 27, 2012
Could hint at future Apple accessory plans
Apple has won a patent on technology needed for an inductive charging dock, notes CNET. The patent is simply titled Antenna insert, but would equip a dock with inductive charging circuits, and a reradiating antenna. Inductive charging allows devices to charge wirelessly simply by sitting on or in close proximity to the charger. Apple points out that cable adapters could also benefit from the technology.
In the patent the company comments that "devices currently require a physical connection to either a docking station, cable, or other device for battery charging and data transfer. The connectors used to make this connection can be awkward to use and require a user to properly align the handheld device to the connector." Switching to inductive charging would also allow docks or adapters to more readily accommodate different shapes and sizes of devices, since they no longer have to use a specific slot shape or port type. A recurring problem with iPhone, iPad, and iPod accessories is that iPads often won't slot into iPhone or iPod docks, and even a device of the same type may not fit an older dock if Apple changes designs slightly.
The proposed reradiating antenna could be used to boost the strength of a device's wireless signal and transfer speeds. That could be critical, since while iOS handhelds can sync with iTunes over Wi-Fi, the process is sometimes slow and/or unreliable.
There have been no rumors of Apple developing inductive docks or adapters, but they may be a logical next step. Third parties like Energizer are already making their own inductive chargers for Apple products, although these require people to use special add-ons such as cases. In the long term, Apple could choose to build native inductive support into its hardware.